Leeds City Council has ‘paused’ funding for a proposed Clean Air Zone because coronavirus has reduced the volume of traffic and dramatically improved air quality, Deputy Leader James Lewis suggested. In other words, traffic pollution might now be low enough that there is no justification to charge motorists in older, more polluting vehicles to enter certain parts of the city.
The local authority therefore claimed that pollution levels have ‘fallen significantly’, and that city residents now breathe air which is ‘considerably cleaner and safer’ than in the recent past.
The Council is therefore ‘reviewing’ – alongside central Government – whether it is necessary and justifiable to have a Clean Air Zone. ‘If the city’s air pollution is expected to stay below legal limits, we will no longer have the support of the Government to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone’, Councillor James Lewis emphasised. ‘Given this uncertainty, our financial support will continue to be paused until this review is complete.’
Leeds City Council further suggested that air quality was improving before the pandemic due to cleaner vehicles, improved public transport, and other initiatives. Councillor Lewis claimed:
‘Many of our buses, taxis, private hire, and businesses are now driving cleaner vehicles. We have also accelerated highways schemes to cut traffic and create more space for cyclists and pedestrians. We are further investing in public transport infrastructure and have policies and schemes that support the uptake of electric and low emission vehicles’, Mr Lewis added. So:
- £6.8 million has been awarded to local businesses to help them switch to lower emission vehicles (as of July 28th 2020)
- Leeds has hundreds of electric vehicle charge points
- The Council itself operates a fleet of 322 fully electric vans (more than any other local authority in England).
Despite such efforts, Leeds City Council recognised that uncertainty surrounding the Clean Air Zone is unsettling. ‘This latest update will be frustrating for many businesses’, Councillor Lewis said. ‘However, I ask drivers and operators for their patience while we carry out this urgent review. I hope to be able to clarify the future of the Leeds Clean Air Zone in autumn 2020.’
Councillor Lewis further said that the local authority is committed to providing residents with clean, healthy air irrespective of its decision on the proposed Clean Air Zone. ‘Tackling the climate emergency and protecting the health of everyone in Leeds remain priorities for the Council’, he revealed.