A ‘clean air zone’ in the centre of Leeds will not see diesel car and van drivers charged to enter, after a city council ruling decided not to penalise them.
The city – the first of 28 required to publish plans to reduce air pollution levels – will instead target pre-2015 commercial vehicles and taxis.
The Labour council responsible for the city ruled out targeting drivers of diesel cars in the proposals. Lucinda Yeadon, executive council board member for the environment, said it would be unfair on poorer families.
“We felt it would have a disproportionate impact on low-income households which have old cars and don’t have the regular income to change them,” she said.
While the council acknowledged that charging diesel drivers would have a significant impact on air quality, they felt “the cost economically and socially of doing that would have been significant.”
Other cities tasked with reducing air pollution, including Birmingham, Southampton and Nottingham, could now avoid charging diesel cars in their own plans, which will be published early next year.
Leeds Council is consulting on a system which encompasses the area inside the outer ring road. Pre-2015 lorries, buses and coaches would be charged up to £100 a day, while petrol and diesel taxis would attract charges of £12.50 a day – with hybrid or fully electric vehicles exempt from paying.
While the ruling will likely delight drivers, not everybody is so pleased. Richard Dyer, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “Leeds city council has shied away from the action needed to reduce air pollution in the quickest time possible and include measures to deter the most polluting cars.
“This is the predictable result of a weak air quality plan from the government, which heaped responsibility onto struggling local authorities and failed to mandate the action that we need to save lives.”
But Ms Yeadon defended the plans, saying it simply wasn’t viable for all drivers to switch from diesel. “People bought diesel cars in good faith because successive governments encouraged them. It took months and months for me to get an electric car and there is an issue that dealerships aren’t ready for this yet. There needs to be a national process to make sure the availability is there.”