Clean Air Zones in the UK: what are the potential costs to the haulage industry?

Clean Air Zones in the UK: what are the potential costs to the haulage industry?

While the UK is free of the pea-soup smogs that plagued it last century, coal soot and unburnt leaded have been replaced by invisible but no-less-dangerous pollutants like Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM).

According to the Royal College of Physicians, in the UK these and a cocktail of other pollutants, emitted from engines, industry and power plants, are responsible for some 40,000 premature deaths, 6 million sick days and a total social cost of £22.6 billion per year.

These health impacts, along with failures in meeting both national and international clean air targets and successive successful legal challenges against the UK government’s previous clean air plans, have led the government to encourage local authorities to enact Clean Air Zones (CAZs). What are they, and how might they impact the haulage industry?

What are Clean Air Zones?

According to the government’s Clean Air Zone Framework, CAZs aim to improve the air quality of the most polluted urban areas. According to the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), vehicles are responsible for 80% of NOx emissions at the roadside, so CAZs primarily focus on reducing transport pollution.

In a Clean Air Zone, every taxi, bus and heavy goods vehicle entering will be subject to checks based on its Euro emissions standard. If a vehicle doesn’t meet the emissions standard for its type, it will be charged entry to the zone. These fines will then be used to invest in and maintain the schemes, as well as acting as a motivation for businesses and owners to upgrade to cleaner vehicles.

Where will the zones be located?

Five cities are required to create CAZs by 2020 – Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Southampton and Nottingham – while London is creating its own Ultra Low Emission Zone by 2019.

Each of these areas is operating and rolling out their schemes slightly differently, although by 2020 all will feature a penalty-based entry system, enforced within a certain area with the use of number plate recognition cameras. In Leeds, for example, the boundary will run around the outer ring road, encapsulating nearly all its urban and suburban areas.

How might the haulage industry be affected?

While all the proposed CAZs are still in the consultation and planning phase and therefore subject to change, most propose that all buses and HGVs below a Euro 4 petrol or Euro 6 diesel engine standard will be fined around £100 per day.

The precise engine classification of a vehicle depends on a host of factors, although the zones aim to ensure only the worst-polluting vehicles are hit. Sunset periods, exemptions and financial assistance packages are being proposed in some of the CAZs, which should help businesses cope with the change.

What will the effects of Clean Air Zones be on the haulage industry?

There are several things that might happen to the haulage industry as an effect of the proposed CAZs, both positive and negative.

Business closures

If haulage businesses with legacy vehicles are not in the financial position to invest in new vehicles, they may be forced to cease trading. This could be detrimental to the industry, although it may also drive competition and allow for new, more efficient businesses to emerge.

Distribution changes

If centres for distribution fall within the zones, they may wish to move out of town to accommodate haulage companies operating polluting vehicles. The ferrying of goods would then be conducted by LGVs.

A boost to dealerships

With some haulage companies requiring new vehicles, dealerships will likely see a spike in business.


While new vehicles will be key to companies, it’s worth noting that many can be retrofitted with emissions-reduction technology – far cheaper than a brand-new lorry. Various CAZ councils are running workshops and schemes to help businesses retrofit too.

What does the haulage industry thing about Clean Air Zones?

The reception to CAZs from the haulage industry has been largely negative, with most fears focusing on the cost.

In April, Haulage groups including the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) appealed to the government to ensure HGV operators weren’t unfairly impacted by the implementation of CAZs. They estimated that a £100-per-day HGV charge could increase non-compliant vehicles’ running costs by 25%.

At the recent Microlise Transport Conference, hauliers were asked whether they thought the needs of the transport industry were being considered in the introduction of CAZs and Low Emission Zones. 49.8% disagreed, 41.7% agreed slightly, and only 8.5% entirely agreed. When asked whether Clean Air Zone measures would have a negative financial impact on their businesses, some 85% agreed.

The industry also attests that it is reducing their emissions impact on their own. According the Road Haulage Association’s 2018 NOx Emission Assessment, nitrous oxide emissions from HGVs nearly halved between 2013 and 2017 and were predicted to be less than a fifth of their 2013 amount by 2025. What’s more, the same study concluded that, in 2015, lorries and buses contributed to just 7.6% of NOx emissions in the UK.
The extent to which CAZs will impact the haulage industry remains to be seen and totally depends on what form the finalised proposals take. Nevertheless, businesses should be wary, putting into place contingency plans and allotting funds towards both emissions-reduction retrofitting and brand-new vehicles.

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