Three-quarters of small and medium-sized business owners support proposals to establish clean air zones in towns and cities, a survey of over 1,000 companies has suggested.
However, the trade body representing small businesses has warned that companies will need support from government and local authorities to ensure that they are not ‘unfairly’ punished by any clean air measures.
A number of local authorities across the country are weighing up the introduction of Clean Air Zones in order to meet targets to reduce air pollution. In some areas this will see charges imposed for the operation of some of the most polluting vehicles, particularly around air pollution hotspots.
The survey, carried out by the hire purchase and refinancing company Close Brothers Asset Finance last month (April 2018), canvassed the opinion of 1,000 SME owners, asking whether they would support the establishment of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in polluted urban areas.
75% of those polled claimed that they are in favour of the establishment of CAZs to address air quality issues, with firms in the North East and London the most in favour (85%) of the proposals
The Transport & Haulage sector mirrored the UK results, at 75%, while the construction was less positive, with 68% in favour, Close Brothers said.
Interestingly, the survey also suggested that six in 10 business owners would be prepared to pay to enter a clean air zone if the vehicle fails to meet the required environmental standards.
Neil Davies, chief executive of Close Brothers Asset Finance, said: “A Clean Air Zone is an area in which a local authority has brought measures into place to improve the air quality. Initially, it was thought that the Clean Air Zones would apply only to buses, taxis and HGVs. However, this was widened to include non-compliant private vehicles.
“It’s encouraging to see hauliers so positive. They are often an easy target for critics of vehicle emissions, but like everyone else they have a stake in ensuring air quality improves.â€?
Despite the survey’s positive findings, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has sounded more of a note of caution over the potential impact of air quality measures on small businesses, arguing that any measures must be ‘affordable and fair’ for small firms.
FSB’s national chairman Mike Cherry, said: “For countless small businesses, the vehicle they use and rely on plays a vital role in their business activities – whether it’s transporting people or good and services.
“Smaller firms recognise the role they can play in reducing air pollution and many are already doing their bit. To enable more businesses to do so, however, the path to reaching air quality targets must be affordable, achievable and fair. Firms are already struggling with the soaring costs of running a business today, and it is simply not fair to them, or to the benefit of the wider economy to, suddenly burden them with substantial additional costs associated with improving air quality.â€?
FSB published a report – ‘Clearing the Air’ – in November outlining its stance on proposals to address air pollution (see airqualitynews.com story).
The report called for greater support for smaller firms to mitigate the impact of CAZs including extending a diesel scrappage scheme to cover all small businesses based in, or frequently operating within, any forthcoming zones.
Outling FSB’s view further, Mr Cherry added: “Local authority plans to tackle air pollution must recognise the difference between vital and non-vital journeys, while providing clarity on what alternative forms of transport are available. We certainly don’t want vital small businesses discouraged from operating in our city centres.
“The diversity of the small business community, and the challenges they face in tackling local air pollution, means that there is not a ‘silver-bullet’ solution. Any measures aimed at improving air quality must acknowledge these differences and provide a range of support that empowers all small businesses to play their part.â€?