Leeds pauses plan for Clean Air Zone in city centre

Leeds City Council has delayed plans to introduce a low-emissions zone in the city centre, following a sharp drop in local emissions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The so-called Clean Air Zone was devised as a means of reducing pollution levels by imposing fees upon higher-polluting vehicles.

It was set to come into force from 28 September but, along with similar schemes in Birmingham and Bristol, was delayed until 2021 when nationwide lockdown measures were imposed at the end of March.

Heavy goods vehicles, buses and coaches would have incurred a daily fee of £50 if they didn’t meet Euro 6 emissions standards, with taxis and private hire vehicles charged £12.50. Private cars, motorcycles and light goods vehicles were to be exempt.

The future of the Leeds project is now uncertain, pending the findings of a review into the long-term impact of the pandemic and the effectiveness of existing measures.

Councillor James Lewis said that “local air quality has actually been improving for some time” and “Leeds residents now breathe air that’s considerably cleaner and safer than just a few months ago”.

If pollution levels in the city remain with legal limits, Lewis added, Leeds City Council “will no longer have the support of the government to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone”. It’s now working to determine whether emissions will ever reach illegal levels again.

As well as a significant fall in traffic levels during the pandemic, more widespread use of low-emissions vehicles and new pedestrian and cycle schemes have contributed to the drop in pollution levels.

As part of its £270 million Connecting Leeds initiative, the council is improving the city’s public transport offering, expanding its cycle lane network and creating new pedestrian zones with the aim of reducing traffic and emissions levels in the centre.

Lewis said: “I recognise that, at an already uncertain time, this latest update will be frustrating for many businesses. However, I would like to ask drivers and operators for their continued patience whilst we carry out this urgent review. I hope to be able to clarify the future of the Leeds CAZ in the autumn.

“Tackling the climate emergency and protecting the health of everyone in Leeds remain priorities for this council. Regardless of any future decision on the charging zone, we will continue to deliver schemes that enable sustainable travel and the shift to zero-emissions vehicles.”