The introduction of clean air zones (CAZs) in the UK is to be delayed until the government overcomes the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision was confirmed by Rebecca Pow, a junior minister at the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), in a letter to David Wells, chief executive of the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
“We will keep the timetable under review but we expect the introduction of clean air zones to be no earlier than January 2021,” Pow said.
“We are in a new and evolving situation which needs a co-ordinated approach to minimise wider societal impacts.”
Admitting that it was a “difficult time” for the industry, Pow said the move will provide “certainty” to the commercial fleet industry.
She said: “The freight industry is an important part of our response [to the COVID-19 outbreak] and we will keep working with you to ensure you can continue your vital role.”
The FTA has been urging the UK government to delay the introduction of CAZs to allow businesses to focus their efforts on keeping goods moving during the coronavirus outbreak.
“While FTA and its members support fully the government’s ambition to improve air quality across the UK, to achieve compliance with the scheme businesses would have to undertake significant work and planning,” said Natalie Chapman, FTA’s head of urban policy.
“With the industry focusing all its attention on ensuring the public, supermarkets and other retailers continue to receive the essential items they need during the pandemic, logistics businesses simply do not have the resources to dedicate to preparing for the imminent introduction of CAZs.
“In addition, supplies of technology, equipment and trucks are being disrupted by the pandemic, making it harder for businesses to upgrade their fleets to meet the emission standards required of the schemes.”
Once the COVID-19 crisis ends, FTA said it will work with Defra and cities whose CAZs were due to come into force this year, to ensure the detail of the schemes take into account the needs of businesses whilst delivering improvements to air quality.
Both Birmingham and Leeds city councils had written to Defra in recent days to ask for a delay to the introduction of CAZs in their respective cities.
The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) also welcomed the decision to postpone all schemes.
Gerry Keaney, chief executive of BVRLA, said: “This is a very sensible decision in the current circumstances.
“It gives some temporary respite for businesses and individuals trying to come to terms with the current health crisis and gives the government’s Joint Air Quality Unit extra time to make sure that key systems such as the centralised payment portal are fit-for-purpose and more fleet friendly.
“To date the range of air quality measures being proposed are wide and varied across UK towns and cities. The landscape is very confusing.
“Hopefully this delay will provide additional time to reflect and deliver a more effective and coordinated way forward.”
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