Council deputy leader casts further doubt on clean air zone

The deputy leader of Leeds City Council has claimed air quality levels remain “good” in the city, throwing plans for the multi-million pound clean air charging zone into further doubt.

Monday, 7th September 2020, 4:30 pm
Updated Monday, 7th September 2020, 4:34 pm

It follows an announcement last month that funding of the £20m-plus scheme would be suspended while the authority worked with the Government to understand whether pollution could ever again reach illegal levels.

The council’s deputy leader, Coun James Lewis, told a meeting of its Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Board this week: “We are seeing air quality levels, unsurprisingly, remain really good, because there was a lot less vehicles on the roads. We know that a lot of the air quality problems are caused by transport.

“We are still seeing very good air quality for a number of reasons. Some of it is because the highways schemes in the city centre mean fewer people are driving through the real hotspots – particulate air quality, as opposed to carbon-levels, is very localised to the source of emissions.

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Council deputy leader James Lewis.

“There are fewer people driving through areas where there were illegal levels before.”

Plans for Leeds’s clean air charging zone would see older models of buses, taxis and HGVs traveling in areas around north Leeds and the city centre pay a congestion charge.

The fees would be administered via a £6m camera network, which would identify number plates of cars that didn’t meet green requirements so that drivers could be charged.

It was originally expected to be up and running by January 2020 but, following numerous delays from central government in creating a vehicle database, it was announced in July 2019 that the charging zone should be going live “some time in 2020”.

Last month it was announced that work on the scheme would be halted.

But despite the uncertainty around the scheme, Coun Lewis claimed some of the infrastructure put in place for the zone was already being used.

He said: “Through the number plate recognition cameras we have got, we can see the mix of vehicles on the roads – on HGVs and buses, over 90 percent have a euro six engine in.

“For vehicles with big engines, euro sixes are a real improvement. Some of the work around the clean air zone has seen the mix of vehicles improve in terms of air quality on the roads.”