Fears that Leeds Clean Air Zone levy could damage ‘backbone’ of city’s economy

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A cross party plea has been made for more Government funding to ensure Leeds’s efforts to tackle air pollution don’t harm small businesses.

As previously reported, a £12.50 a day levy on taxis and £100 a day on lorries and buses is being considered as part of the city’s proposed Clean Air Zone (CAZ), which must be imposed by the end of next year on the orders of Ministers.

Morley Borough Independent councillor Robert Finnigan led a debate on the issue at Leeds Civic Hall, urging caution over “unforeseen” implications of the proposals for small and medium sized businesses which are the “backbone” of the local economy.

He said there were fears that businesses - even those outside the main CAZ area - would be put at risk, and others might decide to relocate from the city entirely to avoid being affected.

Morley falls within the CAZ area, although much of the rest of the city doesn’t.

The proposed CAZ would cover all roads within the outer ring road with the M1 and M62 as the south-eastern boundary, but would not include vehicles that divert around the outer ring road, motorways, or vehicles which cross the city using the M621.

“We need to think about being smarter about the way the Clean Air Zone works,” councillor Finnigan said.

“We need to take care not to penalise unnecessarily small business to a degree where they find it impossible to operate - not just in Morley but across the Leeds City Council area.”

Conservative councillor Barry Anderson pointed out that the city had already received £1m of Government money to help implement the plans, including support for taxi and private hire drivers and a bike share initiative.

But Labour councillor Richard Lewis said the scale of the problem faced by haulage enterprises and other firms “will require far more than a million quid”.

The city has also recently been granted £1.8m for the extension of free parking for electric vehicles, the debate was told.

Lucinda Yeadon, executive member for the environment, told colleagues: “The issue of air quality is one of the biggest challenges this city faces and it is vital that there is cross party consensus on how we tackle it.

“Consulting with businesses was an integral part of the recent consultation period.

“To avoid penalising small businesses, we will be seeking funding from Government for different support packages and exploring solutions.”

She added she was “glad” that there is general consensus on the issue, adding: “Action on air quality is not something we need to work on over the coming 10 or 20 years, but something we need to do now.”

She said she was “proud” of work done so far in city, which includes a new council fleet of ultra low emission vehicles, more than any other local authority in England, and Leeds being the first city to consult on its Clean Air Zone proposals.

The city is also introducing measures to urge drivers to switch to ultra low emission vehicles, she added.

Councillor Paul Wadsworth suggested the city could look at a scale of charging for older vehicles which are not exempt from the levy.

“It’s in everybody’s interests that we do something about it,” he said of the wider CAZ proposals.

Leeds is one of five cities ordered by the Government to introduce Clean Air Zones by 2020 to discourage older, higher emission vehicles from operating in city centres whilst encouraging replacement of these vehicles with newer, cleaner ones.

The city is in the ‘Class C’ action category, meaning it must impose new regulations for buses, coaches, taxis, HGVs and light good vehicles as well as taking “additional local action”.

Evidence has shown that pollution levels can worsen asthma symptoms, damage lung function and are linked with an estimated 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.

One study claimed that almost 700 people a year in Leeds die from illnesses related to air pollution, with an overall cost to the local health economy of £480m.