Leeds council suspends Clean Air Zone proposals – plans may never be introduced

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Leeds City Council has claimed its clean air zone will now not be introduced for the foreseeable future – despite spending millions of pounds helping motorists prepare for the changes, writes Richard Beecham.

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

He added that council funding of the scheme would now be suspended as, should the government decide the air quality in Leeds was now at acceptable levels, its own funding for the scheme would be withdrawn.

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.

Coun Lewis said:

“Leeds City Council is 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.

“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.”

Plans for the zone would see older models of buses, taxis and HGVs traveling 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 which 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”.

Coun Lewis claimed improvements had been made through work done so far on the zone, adding the council was committed to reducing carbon emissions. He said:

“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic we have seen pollution levels fall significantly due to the quieter roads. Leeds residents now breathe air that is considerably cleaner and safer than just a few months ago.

“Coronavirus has led to big changes but, thanks to the city’s collective action, local air quality has actually been improving for some time.

“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 zeroemission vehicles.”

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