A Leeds councillor has called on the Government to compensate hundreds of taxi drivers who paid thousands for new eco-friendly cars, should a review conclude they were not needed, writes Richard Beecham.
It follows an announcement last month that funding of the £20m-plus clean air charging zone (CAZ) would be suspended while the authority worked with the Government to understand whether pollution could ever again reach illegal levels.
The CAZ was due to make a daily charge to buses, HGVs and taxis or private hire vehicles driving in certain parts of the city if their engines did not meet eco-friendly requirements.
The boundary of the Clean Air Zone would be the Leeds Outer Ring Road, meaning several other areas – including Armley, Bramley, Farsley, Rodley, Wortley and Burley – would all be in the zone.
Many self employed taxi drivers spent thousands upgrading their vehicles in readiness for the scheme, which was expected to be up and running in 2021, only to be told work on the scheme was suspended due to improving air pollution levels in the city.
A conclusion of the review into the scheme is set to go before councillors in October’s council executive board meeting, but Labour councillor Javaid Akhtar claimed the government should pay drivers who upgraded their vehicles, should the scheme be scrapped.
Coun Akhtar (Hyde Park & Woodhouse) said:
“Many businesses have suffered, and the private hire and taxi trade is no different. We know many hundreds of drivers have invested thousands of pounds in the cleaner vehicles.
“Can I now ask the executive board member to join us to campaign for a compensation for those drivers who have already invested in hybrids or electric cars, so the Government has to pay those drivers off during these difficult times.”
Coun James Lewis (Lab), executive board member for resources and deputy council leader, said:
“The implementation is under review due to the improvement of air quality since March. It is important that the outcome is not pre-empted.
“I know many taxi and private hire drivers have been in touch since we instigated the review making similar points to those you have made.
“First of all, I would say we have to wait for the outcome of the review.
“Air quality has improved – if the review suggests we don’t need to implement a charging zone, we will make the case to government that the money allocated to us and remains unspent, we continue to support businesses to keep those vehicles on the road, and to invest in new clean vehicles.
“I know Coun Akhtar will make that strong case to the Government. We, should the review say we don’t need a clean air charging zone, will continue to do that.”
Plans for Leeds’s clean air charging zone would see older models of buses, taxis and HGVs travelling in areas around north Leeds and the city centre pay a congestion charge.
The fees would be administered via a £6m camera network, which would identify number plates of cars that didn’t meet green requirements so that drivers could be charged.
It was originally expected to be up and running by January 2020 but, following numerous delays from central government in creating a vehicle database, it was announced in July 2019 that the charging zone should be going live “some time in 2020”.
Last month it was announced that work on the scheme would be halted.