PBM reports back from Transport & Distribution Forum

PBM reports back from Transport & Distribution Forum

The UK is contravening the law when it comes to air pollution and the authorities are now implementing a series of measures in an attempt to hit their targets, with many areas scheduled to enforce ‘Clean Air Zones’.

With reducing diesel emissions a clear objective, the BMF’s Brett Amphlett discussed the issue at a recent BMF Transport & Distribution Forum. PBM reports.

Air pollution is linked to the early deaths of approximately 40,000 people a year from ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease, lung cancer and strokes. The EU Ambient Air Quality Directive 2008 sets legally-binding limits for air pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide that affect public health — and the UK is now playing catch-up.

Whilst far from being the only cause of air quality issues, diesel vehicle emissions — predominantly from cars, but also HGVs and LGVs — are being placed firmly in the spotlight by the Government, which has proposed a number of controls, charges and (dis)incentives:

  • Types of vehicles, fuels, geography & times;
  • Low Emission Zones, Ultra Low Emission Zones and now Clean Air Zones;
  • Vehicle emission standards, differential tax rates, and various monitoring devices;
  • Reforming vehicle and fuel taxation;
  • R&D innovation and market transformation grants.

In July 2017, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a plan to tackle roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, setting out the action needed on both a national and local level to reduce emissions from transport. A network of ‘Clean Air Zones’ has been established as a preferred course of action, requiring diesel vehicles to meet the Euro 6 standard, with the first cities now legally obligated to implement them being Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton.

These CAZs are due to come into effect on 1 January 2020, therefore the clock is ticking. The BMF argument is that it’s essential for central government to provide local authorities with guidance to make it easier for them to develop a local plan, implement measures efficiently and allow uniform consistency — for example, penalty charges are one potential element of the CAZs, with costs of up to £100 per day mooted.

Brett said: “Many BMF members operate in more than one affected area. If the problem is to be tackled on a fair and consistent basis, different rules and procedures cannot be allowed to proliferate. The worry is that different authorities take different — and therefore inconsistent — approaches to one another that simply add to a company’s costs.”

He continued: “Local authorities will doubtless want to make ‘charging’ Clean Air Zones their first choice. We oppose this. Charging CAZs ought to be the last resort, not the first available option. We realise the predicament the UK Government faces in trying to find the best way to resolve the issue, but ministers and officials must understand any action must not be done at the expense of local businesses.”

The BMF says it has lobbied extensively on behalf of its members, across all levels of government, with Brett saying: “We understand why air quality has become a serious issue and support moves to improve it, but central and local government must demonstrate a willingness to work with the BMF and its members. Merchants have no choice but to use diesel vehicles and have no realistic alternatives to diesel at present. We ask for balanced proposals that don’t make members worse off in short-to-medium term.”

Including the aforementioned five ‘mandated cities’, the BMF is aware of 75 towns, cities and urban areas across England — it is a devolved issue — that must consider a CAZ or Low Emission Zone, or at least conduct a feasibility study and set out their preferred options within an appointed timeframe.

In terms of the most recent news, DEFRA recently approved Nottingham City Council’s business case. The city has a track record in striving to reduce roadside NOx emissions and the Council believes that it can achieve its legal obligation via improvements to buses, taxis & private hire cars, and its own vehicles like refuse lorries. Brett says: “We welcome decision not to have a ‘Class B’ Charging Clean Air Zone. This Council has taken a pragmatic, balanced approach that includes economic considerations.”

However, Brett highlighted the particular issues relating to the CAZ in Birmingham. The proposal is for a ‘Class D’ charging CAZ, covering all roads within the A4540 Middleway Ring Road and all road users with non-compliant vehicles will be subject to daily penalty charges. For HGVs, this is £100 per day.

He explained: “Birmingham has a unique combination of air quality and road traffic congestion problems. The city is hemmed in by motorways in a way not found in other cities. The sheer volume of traffic is not helped by commuters using cars to enter Birmingham from places around its perimeter — with 48% of journeys being ‘drive straight through’ ones, for example commuters from Lichfield & Tamworth.”

This, he argues, highlights the problems facing towns and cities in actually addressing the base issue of improving air quality. To do so requires a holistic approach in terms of addressing overall traffic management issues to lessen pollution by helping to reduce both stop/start driving and the formation of queues.

“Changes to the phasing of traffic lights, and road layouts and junctions, ought to improve traffic flow and help to lower emission levels,” argues Brett. The implicit argument being not to simply levy a charge, and penalise vehicles that have limited alternative options.

On a related point, he adds: “There must be proper signs along major routes and entry points to clearly define a CAZ and alternative routes for drivers who wish to go round it. Signs must clearly say it is ‘charging’ or ‘non-charging’ to avoid any doubt. Sufficient time should be given as far in advance as possible, and publicised widely, prior to the introduction of a Zone. This is especially important for BMF members delivering goods from a depot a long way from the Zone itself.”

As the clock runs down to the implementation of the first CAZs in a year’s time, Brett informed the delegates at the Transport & Distribution Forum that the BMF is continuing to act on behalf of its members, to both disseminate information and lobby the relevant authorities to “give us a fighting chance (to) influence and lessen any unforeseen impact, and make the case for diesel”.

For more information visit www.bmf.org.uk.

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