Charging Clean Air Zone in Leeds: Decision imminent after review says council

Leeds City Council has said a decision on introducing a long awaited  long awaited charging  Clean Air Zone in 2021 is imminent  after the move was put on hold following the  Covid-19 outbreak.

The planned Clean Air Zone (CAZ) - which was featured in the Yorkshire Evening Post's Big Conversation survey - would charge the worst polluting taxi and private hire vehicles, buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles for every day driven within the city.

In August, Leeds City Council's deputy leader Coun James Lewis said that air quality in Leeds has improved during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Coun Lewis said the local authority was carrying out a joint review of the CAZ in tandem with central government to understand whether pollution levels could ever actually reach illegal levels.

If the city's air pollution is expected to stay below legal limits the council will no longer have the support of the government to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone.

A Leeds City Council spokesperson said: "Leeds City Council announced a review of the planned charging Clean Air Zone earlier this year.

"This is a joint review conducted by both the council and central government to determine whether air pollution in Leeds will stay below the legal limits.

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"The government will only support Clean Air Zones in cities likely to have illegal levels of air pollution.

"This review is still underway. The council intends to share the outcome of this review within the coming weeks."

The Clean Air Zone topic was featured in the Yorkshire Big Conversation Survey.

The survey, which was launched in September, asked readers: 'Leeds City Council revealed it was putting plans to introduce the city's long awaited clean air zone on hold, following the coronavirus outbreak. Do you agree with the decision to put this on hold?'

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Results revealed last week show that of the dozens of people who answered the question, 57 per cent said yes ; 30 per cent said no and 13 per cent said don't know/not sure.

Plans for the 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 which 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'

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The head of a Leeds taxi drivers’ association said Leeds drivers with older cars should be exempt from any potential Clean Air Zone charges and be allowed to replace vehicles with greener versions as and when their cars needed replacing.

Ghulam Nabi, the secretary of Eurocabs Hackney Carriage Association, said the majority of private hire and taxi drivers in Leeds now have cleaner vehicles that would be exempt from any potential Clean Air Zone charges, but he is concerned for drivers with older cars.

Mr Nabid said: "We hope it (the Clean Air Zone) comes in, but that it's well managed."

A Leeds City Council spokesperson said: "The pandemic has accelerated the long-term decline in air pollution levels in Leeds.

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"Leeds saw a significant decrease in traffic as a result of the lockdown. Whilst this is gradually returning to more normal levels, traffic is still considerably below 2019 levels and even lower at traditionally ‘peak’ hours.

"It should be noted that there are a number of significant factors contributing to continued, long term air quality improvements in Leeds.

"Firstly, most businesses that would have been charged by the Clean Air Zone have already switched to cleaner, greener vehicles to avoid charges.

"Secondly, work has begun in the city centre that will prioritise public transport and active travel whilst redirecting private cars away from some of the city’s most polluted spots.

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"Thirdly, hybrid and electric vehicles are surging in popularity in Leeds. The number of ultra-low emission vehicles driven in Leeds has almost tripled over the last two years and the council continues to invest in EV (electric vehicle) infrastructure."

Dozens of YEP readers took part in the Big Conversation survey, which was launched in September and asked people how they thought Leeds had changed during a year like no other.

The snapshot survey of Yorkshire Evening Post readers looked at big issues in Leeds relating to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

JPI Media titles throughout the country asked questions of readers to find out what has changed since lockdown - and what the new society which emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic should look like to benefit us all.

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