Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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‘Leeds has cleaner air’ argues senior councillor as Clean Air Zone plans are scrapped

Leeds City Council’s controversial clean air charging zone plans are set to be officially scrapped by the authority and Government, writes Richard Beecham.

It follows an announcement last month that the much-delayed £29m scheme would be paused due to unexpectedly positive air quality levels in the city.

It follows an announcement last month that the much-delayed £29m scheme would be paused due to unexpectedly positive air quality levels in the city.

Senior figures at the council have now said air pollution at key points in the city was “not likely to exceed legal limits ever again, even if traffic returned to normal levels”, and that the zone was no longer required.

This is despite millions of pounds of government money being spent on business grants and a new camera network to monitor non-eco-friendly vehicles travelling in and out of the city.

The plans would have seen high-emitting taxis, HGVs and buses charged a fee for entering the city centre and parts of north Leeds, but had been beset with delays since they were first signed off by the Government in 2019.

The boundary of the Clean Air Zone would have been the Leeds Outer Ring Road, meaning several other areas, including Armley, Bramley, Farsley, Rodley, Wortley and Burley would have all been in the zone.

And, following the announcement in September that the scheme would be paused, it also drew scorn from taxi and private hire vehicle drivers, some of whom said they had been pushed into spending thousands on eco-friendly cars they no longer needed.

Deputy council leader, Coun James Lewis, said that the frustrations over the scheme’s difficulties – and its ultimate cancellation – were offset by the fact Leeds now had cleaner air. He said:

“There has been quite a lot of twists and turns on this and lots of delays. Those drivers that have moved over to hybrid vehicles are now spending so much less on petrol. It’s not all bad news and we are appreciative of those people who have switched over.

“It’s great we have achieved what we wanted to do and people in Leeds are breathing much cleaner air.”

Plans for the zone had been signed off by the Government in January 2019, giving Leeds City Council £29m of funding to create the new zone, along with a camera network.

It was originally expected to be up and running by last January 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, Leeds City Council confirmed that the city’s air quality now met national standards, and that it would investigate with government whether it was likely pollution in the city would ever again reach illegal levels.

Polly Cook, the council’s chief officer for sustainable energy and air quality said:

“If traffic levels returned to pre-Covid levels, we would still not exceed legal limits. It is fundamental to understand that the reason we have cleaner air is because of the compliance.

“What we have seen is the outcome that we hoped the council would deliver.”

She added that the proportion of eco-friendly buses in the city grew from one in 20 in 2016 to 19 in 20 in 2020.

“We have achieved the clean air zone objective without the clean air zone being introduced,” she added.

The council says it will also be able to keep and repurpose the camera infrastructure that had been installed to monitor and enforce the zone. In the unlikely event that air quality declined for any reason, the council retains this infrastructure and could seek support from central government to introduce a Clean Air Zone.

It added grants and interest-free loans would still be available to help local businesses switch to cleaner vehicles as well as to provide free licensing costs to drivers of less polluting taxi and private hire cars.

The report, set to be discussed by Leeds City Council’s executive board on Wednesday, October 21.

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