London, Bristol, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath, Cardiff; what do these great British cities have in common? They all have plans for Clean Air Zones (CAZ), a portion of the city where the local authority has decided to either charge vehicles to enter it or, as with London’s zero emission zone, banning polluting vehicles altogether.
Such zones are becoming more and more popular in the UK and, in principle at least, they have the backing of the government. The rise of these radical proposals to air pollution stems from two sources; firstly, the government’s need to comply with laws regarding levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution which are now widely recognised as being hazardous to people’s health, and secondly the rising concern that the air we breathe is no longer safe.
Clean Air Zones: A Breath Of Fresh For Hull?
Noble as the idea of these clean air zones sounds, they are not without their downsides. They could prove a bar to entering cities and make life for hard-pressed retailers even more difficult. Such zones are designed to hit the most polluting vehicles hardest – especially diesel drivers – so they affect couriers, fleet, truck and other professional drivers hard, and in the case of couriers and other delivery drivers they can even stop them getting to their destinations completely. Others see these zones as simply a further tax on motorists and a regressive tax at that given it would hit the lowest paid hardest.
Over 50% Of People Back Clean Air Zones
Surprisingly, however, there does seem to be a groundswell of support for these zones. The Yorkshire Post recently reported that more than half of the UK population now support clean air zones. Their survey went on to report that 53% would support a diesel scrappage scheme being introduced to enable diesel drivers to reduce the amount they would be liable to pay.
So, would a clean air zone work for Hull and East Yorkshire? Given East Yorkshire’s trucking and haulage sectors would this be a damaging step for local businesses? And what would be the impact on Hull’s burgeoning tourism industry be? In this latest blog from Coversure Hull, the motor and business insurance specialists, we’ll look at the argument from both sides and ask whether a clean air zone would choke the life out of Hull’s economy.
Hull’s Troubled Retail Scene
The news has been thick with stories regarding shop closures and big name retailers retreating from the High Street in favour of online trading. Hull itself has lost Toys R Us, Maplin and New Look, and the future of other big-name brands such as Debenhams, House of Fraser, Claire’s Accessories and Mothercare is far from assured. The number of closures has got shoppers concerned with 70% of Hull Mail’s survey voicing unease about the future of the centre. Adding restrictions to where shoppers can go, or adding to the cost of going there, isn’t likely to help matters.
Of course other cities have restrictions and they have managed to thrive. When London’s Congestion Charge was introduced back in 2003 it was feared that the capital would become a ghost town. These fears proved unfounded and business has continued to boom with the added advantage that about £1.2 billion (46%) of the revenue raised has been invested in public transport, road and bridge improvement and walking and cycling schemes. If even a small percentage of this revenue were raised in Hull it could make the existing park and ride scheme cheaper and quicker and provide a much-needed boost for other capital investments that would make the city more attractive to visitors as it basks in the glory of being the City of Culture.
Trucking And Road Haulage In Hull
As we’ve previously noted, Hull and East Yorkshire are hubs of the haulage industry, helping to convey much of the 10,783,000 tonnes of goods that annually go through Hull’s port. Any restriction on where these vehicles can go or any extra charges would be hugely troublesome for the sector. Coming hard on the post-referendum diesel price increases – which have risen from 112p to 124p per litre – and the uncertainty Brexit brings, could this be a charge too far?
For truckers, at least, any clean air zone is unlikely to be too much of an issue. The zones typically focus on city centres rather than the industrial zones that HGVs frequent: it would, after all, be economic madness for one to be thrown up around the port. For couriers and other light delivery vehicles it could be more problematic as they do need to access both the city centre and urban areas. Margins are notoriously slim in the courier sector and competition is fierce. Any charges would have to be swallowed or passed on, neither of which are exactly palatable. There could be a solution though, going electric. Electric vehicles are exempt from charges and with Hull Council considering expanding the number of charging points it provides, this could prove a real win-win.
As a fleet insurance specialist it would be remiss of us not to look at the implications for fleet drivers. Fleet drivers haven’t exactly had the easiest of rides of late. Between the changes in the Ogden Rate, the rises in company car tax and the slow take up of electric fleets, it’s not been easy for firms to keep their fleets on the road. As with couriers, fleet drivers need access to all parts of the city and this could prove costly.
As with couriers the solution could lie in going electric – switching to an electric fleet is easier than you may think – or simply using modern technology such as virtual meetings to avoid driving altogether.
Would A Clean Air Zone Choke the Life out Of Hull’s Economy?
There are undoubtedly up and downsides to clean air zones. Yes, one would prove restrictive and costly for some, but on the flipside what price breathable air and the health of the community? Our view is that if it comes – and many think it will eventually – that Hull would take it in its stride; would rely on its innate resourcefulness and make it work – somehow!