Why a charging Clean Air Zone will not solve Newcastle’s air quality crisis

Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside is the only region in the North East of England set to introduce a charging air quality scheme in the near future.

However, it’s not the most effective way to improve air quality in the long-term and will only cost the livelihoods of many small businesses in the region, writes Margaret Simpson, head of policy for Scotland & Northern England.

The proposals are garnering plenty of interest from residents and businesses alike, with a record-breaking 19,000 people responding to a recent council survey on the controversial plans.

Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside will adopt one of two options: the first option is a Clean Air Zone (CAZ); the second is a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) with tolls across the three city centre bridges: Tyne, Swing and Redheugh.

Both proposals would see any driver entering the conurbation with a vehicle that does not meet set emissions standards, which are Euro VI or 6 for diesel and Euro 4 for petrol vehicles, receive a charge upon entry.

Either option would represent an additional cost to operating and delivering in and around Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside, and, as such, would have a detrimental impact upon the local economy.

CAZs and LEZs are not the only methods available to drive air quality improvements: for example, Nottingham City Council successfully presented its case to Defra that other solutions can deliver a better outcome in a quicker time frame, without damaging the local economy.

Operators and vehicle manufacturers have already led the way with investment in cleaner technologies through developments in engine standards; this has helped to reduce levels of key pollutants more than 20-fold over recent years.

The scheme is not a transformative measure, as marketed by the government: it simply brings forward the fleet replacement cycle at huge cost to many small businesses and operators of specialist vehicles.

The truth is that charging air quality schemes bring no long-term air quality benefit; councils would be better placed to concentrate on traffic management and encouraging the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles.

If the councils insist on going ahead with one of their proposals, they must take all steps available to mitigate the scheme’s damage to local business. FTA is urging the councils to ensure that the size of the zone be as small and targeted as possible, to reduce the number of businesses and operators affected.

The logistics industry is already playing its part to improve air quality in the North East of England and further afield, by devising and implementing emission-reduction strategies through the Logistics Emissions Reduction Scheme (LERS).

Administered by FTA, LERS is a free to join industry initiative to record, report and reduce carbon emissions from freight transport.

With the average emissions from LERS members close to 13 per cent lower per vehicle km than the industry average, the scheme has been successfully demonstrating the industry’s ability to improve emissions on its own without further government intervention for many years.

Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods.

With Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc. A champion and challenger, FTA speaks to government with one voice on behalf of the whole sector, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers.