Drivers of the most polluting vehicles, could be charged up to £50 a day to enter Leeds under radical new plans to cut air pollution in the Yorkshire city.
The Clean Air Zone (CAZ), which could be the first outside London, will cover more than half of Leeds and will see drivers monitored using a network of cameras from January 2020. Lorries, buses and coaches would all face the maximum charge.
The council hopes it will drastically reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which contributes to about 29,000 UK deaths each year, according to Public Heath England.
The proposal has drawn criticism from hauliers, who say that it will likely increase pollution and congestion because firms will dodge the charge by switching from lorries to vans, which are not subject to the charge.
In 2016 the government ordered the five local authorities with the worst record on NO2 to implement air quality charging schemes. Leeds was on the list, along with Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham and Southampton.
On Tuesday Leeds revealed its plans, publishing an interactive map of the zone, plus the likely £50 daily charges for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), buses and coaches and £12.50 for taxis and private hire vehicles. Light goods vehicles (LGVs) and private vehicles would not be charged.
Leeds council is requesting £27m from the government’s clean air fund to support local businesses to upgrade or retrofit affected vehicles through grants and interest-free loans. It wants a further £13m to cover costs associated with the infrastructure and operation of the zone.
Leeds hopes to gain government approval by Christmas, according to councillor James Lewis, an executive member with responsibility for sustainability and the environment.
He said the proposal was based on achieving results “as quickly as possible” and had been “carefully developed following months of consultation with thousands of residents and local businesses”. Three-quarters of Leeds residents agreed with the proposal, he said.
But Paul Mummery of the Road Haulage Association said the scheme, while a good idea, was based on “flawed logic”.
He said the £50 fee could discourage hauliers from using lorries, instead switching to vans, “likely boosting pollution and congestion”.
Lewis acknowledged these criticisms, but said the council hoped to provide a one-time grant of up to £16,000, paid to the owner of a vehicle, to retrofit or replace polluting vehicles.
In the summer Birmingham council submitted its own plans for a low emissions zone, which would apply to diesel vehicles registered before September 2015 and some petrol vehicles registered before January 2006, including private cars.
In 2008 London introduced its first low emissions zone, which by 2015 was reported to have reduced NO2 concentrations by 12%. This summer Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, announced plans to introduce an “ultra-low emission zone” covering a huge swath of London by 2021.
Road transport is responsible for some 80% of NO2 concentrations at the roadside, with diesel vehicles the biggest polluters, according to the government.
The government says its most immediate air quality challenge is tackling the problem of NO2 concentrations around roads – the only statutory air quality limit that the UK is currently failing to meet.