9 May 2016

Leasing industry calls for consistency across clean air zones to safeguard fleets

Fleets require a consistent nationwide approach to the implementation of clean air zones, but a blanket ban of all diesel vehicles in city centres would be damaging to businesses, according to the UK vehicle leasing and rental industry.

Furthermore, with fleets operating vehicles on three, four and five-year contracts they need time to prepare for any significant changes, according to the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), of which Activa Contracts is a member.

The BVRLA was responding to last month’s ‘Air Quality’ report by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which called for new clean air zones to be introduced in dozens of English towns and cities to cut the risk of cardiac, respiratory and other diseases caused by polluted air.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is planning new clean air zones in five of the most polluted cities - Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton - but MPs say more are needed to cut the health and environmental impacts of pollutants, including particulates and nitrogen dioxide.

BVRLA Chief Executive Gerry Keaney said: ‘Air quality is a big issue for Britain’s urban areas, and we can understand why the Committee has called for councils to be given greater freedom to set up clean air zones.

‘The vehicle rental and leasing industry is concerned that the UK could end up with a lack of consistency across clean air zones - the government needs to step up and deliver a framework for a nationwide network of low emission zones.

‘It’s also important that motorists are not punished with retrospective measures for decisions that they have already made. Fleets operate vehicles on three, four and five-year contracts, and need time to prepare for any significant change.

‘Fleets need consistency, but a blanket ban of all diesel vehicles in city centres would be damaging to businesses - DEFRA must take a carrot-and-stick approach if it wants to drive the uptake of the least polluting vehicles, and bring the UK into compliance with European Union air quality targets.’

Meanwhile, although the Freight Transport Association (FTA) says it supports the report into air quality and transport, it claims that clean air zones are too inflexible.

The report said that clean air zones as defined by DEFRA may not best address local air pollution problems and targeted schemes could be more effective.

The FTA’s Head of National and Regional Policy Christopher Snelling said: ‘We are glad the Committee noted FTA’s concerns that clean air zones are a blunt tool. Local air quality problems are just that - local. They differ in geographical extent and sources of pollution, and they will differ in terms of best solutions.’

The FTA supports the statement by the Committee that ‘cities may find it more effective to limit vehicle access at certain times of day or to target specific bus routes rather than adopt blanket access proposals’.

The FTA has consistently rejected the instruction that the burden of clean air zones must fall exclusively on commercial vehicles, buses and taxis. The association believes cars should not be excluded from consideration. Further, FTA agrees with others such as the Local Government Association that clean air zones are only one potential solution.

Mr Snelling said: ‘Other options, such as local traffic management, could be better suited in some cases - one policy action should not be artificially promoted over others as if it was some magical solution.’