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Government blamed as cities postpone CAZ implementation

Andrew Forster
21 June 2019

Birmingham and Leeds city councils this week blamed central government for a delay to  the introduction of their charging clean air zones (CAZs).

Both councils planned to launch their CAZs next January as part of efforts to comply with EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide concentrations. 

A spokesman for Birmingham told LTT?that its CAZ?would now be introduced “no earlier than 1 July 2020” and that the city’s compliance with the EU NO2 annual mean limit value would be pushed back from 2021 to 2022. 

Leeds has not given a new implementation date.

Birmingham’s class D CAZ will cover cars, vans, buses, coaches, HGVs, taxis and private hire vehicles. Leeds’ class B CAZ will cover buses, coaches, HGVs, taxis and private hire vehicles.

The councils attribute the delays to problems with the Government’s part of the programme. 

The immediate problem is a delay to completing a web-based vehicle checker by the joint air quality unit (JAQU, consisting of DfT?and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials). Vehicle owners will  use the checker to see if their vehicles are compliant with CAZ emission standards. 

The facility?was due to be complete in October but Birmingham says it is not now expected to be delivered until at least December. Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Birmingham’s cabinet member for transport and environment, said the delay meant that, had the council gone ahead with a January 2020 launch, drivers would “only have a matter of weeks, if not days, to make key choices about their travel behaviour or upgrade their vehicles. This is simply unacceptable.”

Birmingham says a further delay to its CAZ?may be necessary because the Government is also rethinking arrangements for the CAZ?payment, settlement and reconciliation (PSR) system.

LTT?revealed last summer that the Government was planning a centralised payment processing system, enabling drivers to use a single web portal for CAZ payments, irrespective of which CAZ they drive in (LTT?28 Sep 18)

But Birmingham now says the Government is looking for the reconciliation element of the  system to be delivered by councils rather than Government, “as ultimately local authorities will hold all payments”. 

Phil Edwards, Birmingham’s assistant director for transport and connectivity, told councillors: “Whilst a formal change control has yet to be received from JAQU, it is estimated that development and delivery of this system could take up to 12 months from the point of local authorities receiving a detailed technical specification. 

“Additional funding would also be required from JAQU in respect of confirmed scope changes and the need for local authorities to put in place a customer help desk to deal with payment queries.”

A Defra spokeswoman told LTT this week: “We are aware of concerns over delays and are carrying out work to develop key components of the system to support the charging clean air zones for January 2020. We are committed to cleaning up our air, but we need to balance environmental goals with realistic timescales if we are to create a service that is reliable and effective for local authorities.”

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC?Foundation, told LTT: “Drivers set to encounter charges to enter Birmingham and Leeds probably won’t be fussed about who provides the vehicle look-up website and who runs the back office, but they will expect the website to be accurate and available in good time, and the back office to be efficient – this story inevitably raises unfortunate question marks over all three.”

Christopher Snelling, the Freight Transport Association’s head of UK policy, said the councils had no choice but to delay. “You cannot start a regulation without a reliable way to comply with it in place and tested – there is simply too much chance that things launched at the very last minute will go wrong.”

Andrea Lee, a senior campaigner with environmental lawyers ClientEarth, said: “The UK Government’s approach to clearing up harmful air pollution goes from failure-to-failure. Having put the onus on councils to come up with plans, Birmingham and Leeds city councils have worked hard for three years trying to meet the deadline. Unbelievably, they are now being held up because our national government is failing to provide the necessary infrastructure.”

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