England’s two largest councils have blamed the government for ‘significant’ delays to their plans to introduce charging Clean Air Zones (CAZs) to tackle air pollution.
Birmingham and Leeds city councils said the hold-up resulted from a ‘government delay in delivering digital systems required to make the zones operational and enforceable’.
They added that the Government now expects local authorities to deliver a system for collecting payments from non-compliant vehicles entering the CAZs, having previously said that it would deliver this.
Both councils said they had been on track to implement CAZs on the basis that a vehicle checker tool, which is being delivered by the Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU), would be ready by October 2019 as planned.
However, they said the JAQU has now confirmed that the vehicle checker will not be available until at least December 2019 – ‘leaving just weeks before the zones were due to come into force in January 2020’.
The councils pointed out that the Government had required them to take action to tackle illegal pollution levels in their cities.
Leeds City Council deputy leader James Lewis said: ‘It is extremely disappointing that Leeds has been forced to delay the introduction of one of the UK’s first Clean Air Zones because of the Government’s failure to meet its own commitments to the two largest local authorities.
‘Leeds City Council has worked incredibly hard to make sure that the Clean Air Zone would be delivered on time, successfully meeting a number of challenging deadlines set by the government.’
Cllr Lewis said the council would do ‘everything possible’ to mitigate the delay and would continue to financially support owners of affected vehicles switching to less polluting models, ‘as doing so is the best way to improve air quality prior to the charging zone’s introduction’.
He said the council will begin to install the camera infrastructure required for the CAZ within the next few weeks, as planned.
Waseem Zaffar (pictured), cabinet member for transport and environment at Birmingham City Council, said that while the council had been ‘fully on track’ to implement its CAZ from January the delay meant it is unable to go ahead as planned, ‘as this would be completely unfair on residents, businesses and visitors to the city who would only have a matter of weeks, if not days, to make key choices about their travel behaviour or upgrade their vehicles’.
He added: ‘While this does mean people will have longer to make these changes, it will also delay Birmingham in achieving air quality compliance, leaving our city exposed to dirty air for longer than anticipated.’
A Government spokesperson said: ‘We are aware of concerns over delays and are carrying out work to develop key components of the system to support the Charging Clean Air Zones for January 2020.’