In January of this year, the UK Government was issued a ‘final warning’ from the European Commission about the poor levels of air quality – it was found that there were repeated breaches of the limits in 16 different areas, with Birmingham and Leeds consistently among the worst areas. The fines for such breaches could total in the region of £60 million.

As a response to that, there are plans for two new congestion charging schemes to come into force on the 1st January 2020, which could see some vehicles paying as much as £100 per day to enter the city centres.

Clean air zones

Both Birmingham and Leeds city councils are looking to introduce schemes similar to London’s ULEZ (Ultra-Low Emission Zones) in a bid to tackling the ‘crisis-level’ air pollution found in the cities. Only vehicles that meet Euro 4 for unleaded (generally manufactured after 2006) or Euro 6 for diesel (2015 onwards) would be exempt from the charge, although it’s thought that Leeds will only target the commercial vehicles such as taxis, buses and HGVs, whereas Birmingham will look to the private motorist also.

A spokesman for Birmingham City Council stated that the charge wasn’t about making money, that all surplus would go back into the city’s transport budget, and that this was purely as a measure to tackling city-wide pollution levels. The charge will cover every single road within the city centre, aside from the A4540 middle ring road; a perfect way to create a congestion zone.

Birmingham council’s own analysis into air quality found that the high pollution levels were responsible for shortening the lives of at least 900 residents.

A different route for Leeds

Leeds City Council will also be introducing a congestion charge, but amidst the plans, they have also stated that their end goal is to make the air breathable (rather than financial gain), so they’ll be looking to support businesses running HGVs or coaches with grants of up to £19,000 to retrofit emission reducing tech, equally, taxi drivers will be eligible for funding of up to £3,000 to help them swap over to electric or hybrid power.

Further still, the initial plan to charge £100 per day for the most polluting vehicles has been halved to just £50, and the restricted zone has also been reduced – this seems a genuine plan to try and address the issue of air quality, rather than penalise the motorist – they won’t be charging private motorists to enter the city.

There’s also talk of alternative measures such as ‘no idling’ zones outside schools and having car-free days within the city centre.

The bigger picture

Whilst the plans still need to be approved by Parliament, you’d say it was a rather safe bet that this will be happening on the proposed date in January 2020, and the question is – will this be extended to other areas?

Birmingham council runs under the West Midlands Combined Authority, which also controls Coventry, surely the next step is to roll the plan out to the extended reaches of the authority? Just as London is widening their ULEZ zone for 2021, taking in all of inner London, Birmingham will look to incorporate the surrounding cities as part of the ‘tackling pollution’ strategy.

Coventry City Council are under heavy criticism for the treatment of motorists as it is, with official bodies such as the Traffic Penalty Tribunal branding them “delusional, reminiscent of King Canute” in respect to parking restrictions, which have earned the council over £1.5 million. Will this be the Golden Egg for the council?


What about you?

Although still over a year away, the plans to introduce a congestion charging zone, Clean Air Zone, ULEZ, T-Charge or any other form of penalty to the motorist will have a very real effect on many of us. A great deal of families already monitor their spending closely as a result of increasing fuel costs, and paying a further £10 per day to enter a city centre isn’t going to make things easier.

Naturally, being in a city centre means there are good public transport links, but that’s still further cost, and if the taxi/bus/coach companies are adding an extra £100/day to their overhead, that cost will simply be passed on to the consumer, or it will force the taxi drivers out of town.

Adding a congestion charge to enter a city will simply push consumer prices upwards – imagine a small logistics company that has just ten HGVs delivering to a city centre, that’s £1,000/day or £365,000 per year increase in overhead – this is no longer just about the motorist, this is the UKs economy.

Can you think of better ways to reduce air pollution? Will a £10 charge prohibit you from entering a city centre? What sort of effect do you think this will have on the consumer economy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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