Chris Ashley, the RHA’s Head of Policy – Environment & Regulation, discusses Clean Air Zones and why the RHA is seeking a change to the national policy framework.
The Government’s controversial policy of Clean Air Zones (CAZ) continues to vex our members. As each day goes by, the policy reveals itself to be another case of the emperor having no clothes. It is expensive, inflexible and not as effective as it should be.
In principle, the RHA does not dispute the policy intention behind CAZ. Following the ClientEarth court wins, the Government has at face value seemingly gripped the need to bring down harmful Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions. This should be welcome news. We all want a healthy clean environment. However, the practical implications and knock-on consequences for both hauliers and the local businesses they supply within a CAZ are ill-thought through.
The RHA and others have highlighted many flaws in the design of the CAZ framework over the last few years but sadly this has fallen on deaf ears by officials in the Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU). As local authorities around the country continue revealing their CAZ plans, the flaws are now becoming clear.
So, what’s wrong with the national policy framework that governs CAZ? Put simply, by inflexibly basing CAZ compliance on the Euro VI emission standard, CAZ is an act of government intervention that has caused the re-sale values of non-Euro VI lorries to collapse. Compounding this effect is a market shortage in second-hand Euro VI lorries that has caused the price of that product to rise.
Aggravating the problem is a serial government failure to recognise the perfectly competitive nature of our industry and the price benefit this derives for consumers in low transport costs. Unless limited specialist exemptions apply, adding costs impacts the viability of many businesses who are forced to pay uneconomic prices to upgrade vehicles.
The combined effect from this single act of government intervention is that market forces have perversely conspired against non-Euro VI operators wishing to upgrade to the cleaner lorries we all want to see. Given the unfolding CAZ calamity that the RHA has consistently warned would happen, the Government will see operators going out of business and price rises for consumers.
All this pain can be avoided however if ministers urgently change course and implement a smarter policy framework to reduce NOx emissions. We can be cleaner and at less cost. We suggest the review considers:
• allowing local authorities to charge only the oldest dirtiest vehicles across all vehicle types (e.g. Euro 3/III or older);
• allow differential charging (lower charges for Euro 5/V);
• mandate that auto-pay is available for all vehicles including non-UK vehicles;
• when CAZ charges will end.
Not only is our campaign important for our members, it also shapes how we address the next big challenge of overcoming climate change. The current CAZ model must not be replicated when decarbonising our sector. Policy makers need to learn urgent lessons from CAZ, so that a much better and sensitive policy framework is implemented that achieves what everyone wants to see – a sustainable, healthy environment that supports jobs and economic growth.