Leeds clean air charging zones will not affect private motorists, insist transport chiefs

Buses and taxis will be subject to charges.
Buses and taxis will be subject to charges.

A scheme to charge high-polluting vehicles in Leeds will not include people’s personal vehicles, according to a senior city councillor.

The comments by Leeds City Council’s deputy leader James Lewis came in a meeting of the authority’s executive board, during a discussion on a new £40m scheme to improve air quality.

The proposed clean air charging zone in and around Leeds city centre would charge high polluting taxis and private hire vehicles up to £12.50 a day, while non-eco-friendly HGVs and buses would pay £50 a week for coming into the zone.

But councillors wanted assurances that the scheme would not be rolled out to private vehicle owners, who have so far been exempt from the plans.

Coun Andrew Carter, the leader of the city council’s Conservative group, said: “I would like an assurace that there is no intention of widening the scheme to include private motor vehicles.”

Coun Lewis responded: “We believe the proposals in this paper will reach compliance with the vehicles listed in it.”

It was also commented that plans for HGV companies to retro-fit clean engines to their vehicles would prove difficult.

A council officer added: “We are anticipating the retro-fit solutions will be going through the approval process.

“From an industry point of view, it’s not a comfortable situation for them. But there is a flexibility in money they can use from government.

“We want to push the national retro-fit solution, as that will be the most affordable solution.”

The changes are expected to come in by 2020. It follows a decision from the supreme court following a ruling from the EU that cities in the UK have to tackle air pollution.

The council’s director of resources and housing Neil Evans added: “What can’t be avoided is that the Supreme Court has ruled several times that compliance has to be achieved.

“Practicality is not sufficient defence – you have to achieve it.

“Have we done something that is proportionate to achieve this? I think we have.”

Coun Stewart Golton, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrats group, believes the council should have done more in the past few years to tackle air pollution.

He said: “The reason why we are having to go at pace now is because we didn’t put the leg-work in earlier.

“Some people are more fundamentalist than others when it comes to air quality, but you have to come up with policies for the whole population.

“We can make up for coming late to the feast – we need to now take on the mantle of enthusiasts and change the behaviour of private motorists.”

Council chief executive Tom Riordan added that Leeds is already on target to have reduced its carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.

Coun Lewis added: “None of us are thinking this is going to be easy for any of the people affected.

“We are one of the first cities to put forward proposals. But this is an agenda that is not going to go away.”