The UK Government’s air quality plan is controversial. It is inflaming opinion from different sides. Environmental lawyers are accusing it of being weaker than they had hoped for, despite ministers suffering defeat in the courts over previous plans which did not appear to go far enough.
The current plan includes clean air zones, designed to prevent the most severely polluting vehicles from entering cities. How might these changes affect fleets?
A Cautious Welcome
“I think most fleet managers appreciate the ongoing issue of pollution,” remarks Alan Locke of fleet maintenance specialists, AYCEN Group, “but there are worries about how proposed measures may end up costing business.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has launched a consultation on the Government’s plan, and there is concern about whether local authorities should have the power to charge vehicles to enter clean air zones.
“Concerned about the impact on individuals and businesses, the Government has put the onus on local authorities to first look for alternatives to charging,” Alan observes.
The plan may have implications on an area-by-area basis leading to some local authorities choosing to charge, while others do not.
“From a fleet management viewpoint, charging to enter clean air zones is going to have the most negative impact on profits and margins but it also raises the question of whether there are enough positive incentives for cutting down on vehicle pollution”
What About a National Scrappage Scheme?
Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have been above legal limits in 90% of the UK’s urban areas since 2010. These fumes, mainly from diesel vehicles, are estimated to cause 23,500 early deaths a year. A cross-party committee of MPs declared the problem a public health emergency in 2016.
“Getting new, cleaner vehicles, be they cars, vans, trucks or buses, onto our streets and roads quickly should be a priority,” Alan says. “Many fleet managers and businesses would therefore welcome a national scrappage scheme.”
Such a scheme could act as a positive counterbalance to any charging proposals for clean air zones. The Government has included proposals in its technical report accompanying the plan, and is awaiting Defra’s conclusions arising from the consultation process.
“Incentives would help in encouraging more fleets to reduce their emissions,” Alan thinks, “such as cash made available to commercial vehicle operators who trade in their older diesel vehicles.”
“A clean air strategy needs to join up various incentives or risk being ineffectual. It would be more beneficial for government to focus on incentivising fleets rather than penalising them”
“The UK’s economic recovery is fragile. Whereas clean air zones are a good idea in theory, they risk damaging business if they become too punitive,” Alan concludes. “On the other hand, if local authorities don’t charge drivers for entering these zones, what other measures might help encourage them to reduce emissions?”
To read more of Alan Locke’s thoughts on this issue, please read his LinkedIn post.