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Clean Air Zone decision ‘latest example of muddled thinking at council’

A West Leeds councillor has said the decision to pause implementing a Clean Air Zone will cost private businesses thousands of pounds and he believes it is the latest example of muddled thinking at Leeds Council.

Cllr Andrew Carter (Cons, Calverley & Farsley) believes that the delay in re-opening local playgrounds, and now the decision to review the clean air zone indicate a lack of clarity of thinking at the very top of the Council.

The deputy leader of the council James Lewis (Lab) said earlier this week that the Covid-19 pandemic has improved air quality in Leeds, and that the authority was working with the Government to understand whether pollution levels could ever actually reach illegal levels.

While it is not known if or when work on the scheme will restart, the council claims it should know further details in the Autumn once a review into the scheme had taken place.

Under the proposals, the owners of buses, heavy goods vehicles and coaches would have to pay £50 a day, while taxis and private hire vehicles will be charged £12.50 a day if their vehicles did not meet pre-determined emission standards.

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.

Councillor Andrew Carter, Leader of the Conservative Group, said:

“These are clearly very difficult times but decisive local leadership is now more important than ever and I am concerned that there is now growing evidence that things are not being handled properly at the Council.

“We have had a baffling delay in the reopening of council operated playgrounds whilst neighbouring authorities are seen to open theirs and now a decision to pause the Clean Air Zone after many local businesses, including taxi drivers and haulage companies, have spent thousands of pounds on making changes that would have made their vehicles compliant.

“The Covid-19 pandemic could not have been predicted and we accept this is a challenging environment to operate in, but what Leeds needs is decisive and coherent local leadership and I am becoming increasingly concerned that is just not happening. The ruling administration need to get a grip and fast.”

The GMB Union says taxi drivers have been forced to spend between £20,000 and £70,000 on new vehicles and its members are becoming increasingly angry and concerned.

GMB Organiser Andrew Aldwinkle said:

“GMB members have done everything they have been asked to do and have been forced into debt to do it.

“To be now told that the scheme has been suspended and is under review is a slap in the face for our members and all drivers across the city, WHO have piled up debt which may now have been completely unnecessary.”

But Coun Lewis (Lab, Kippax) said Leeds City Council was now working closely with central government to review the long-term impact that the pandemic and these other factors will have on the city’s air quality to understand whether pollution will ever reach illegal levels. He added:

“If the city’s air pollution is expected to stay below legal limits then we will no longer have the support of the government to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone. Given this uncertainty, our financial support will continue to be paused until the review is complete and we have received further direction.

“I recognise that at an already uncertain time, this latest update will be frustrating for many businesses. However, I would like to ask drivers and operators for their continued patience whilst we carry out this urgent review. I hope to be able to clarify the future of the Leeds CAZ in the Autumn.

“Many of our buses, taxis, private hire and businesses are now driving cleaner vehicles and we’ve accelerated highways schemes that will reduce traffic and create more space for cyclists and pedestrians. We’re investing in public transport infrastructure as part of our £270 million Connecting Leeds transport programme and have introduced policies and schemes to support the uptake of electric and low emission vehicles.

“Tackling the climate emergency and protecting the health of everyone in Leeds remain priorities for this council. Regardless of any future decision on the charging zone we will continue to deliver schemes that enable sustainable travel and the shift to zero-emission vehicles.”

Last week it emerged that Bristol council had taken a similar decision to review implementing a Clean Air Zone.


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