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Clean air plans could affect 1.5m small firms

Forthcoming Clean Air Zones in towns and cities currently breaching air quality limits - including seven in the North West - could disproportionately affect small businesses, according to the FSB.

Forthcoming Clean Air Zones in towns and cities currently breaching air quality limits - including seven in the North West - could disproportionately affect small businesses, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

As part of the government’s Air Quality Plan, the first half of which was published in August, a number of local authorities across the UK have been ordered to put plans in place to introduce ‘Clean Air Zones’ (CAZs).

In the North West, this includes Manchester, Stockport, Tameside, Salford, Trafford, Bolton and Bury.

The CAZs could include a range of different measures, such as changing road layouts to reduce congestion, encouraging uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and retrofitting public transport.

If such measures are not sufficient, councils are also able to consider more direct restrictions on the most polluting vehicles, including bans at certain times of the day or charging zones.

According to the government’s own research, the Clean Air Zones will affect around 2.3 million cars and 1 million vans by 2021.

Charging ahead

The FSB has published a report, ’Clearing the Air’, which shows that ‘chargeable’ zones could particularly affect smaller businesses, which operate in largely urban areas. 

Although government research suggests that the majority of ‘non-compliant’ car users would change their journey or mode of transport to avoid a charging zone, the situation is more challenging for goods vehicles.

The government estimates that only a third of light goods vehicles (LGVs) would have the ability to avoid a charging zone. Instead, a quarter of van users would be expected to upgrade their vehicle to retain access to a zone, with a further 42 per cent choosing to pay the charge.

Support for businesses

Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, said: “For countless small businesses, the vehicle they use and rely on plays a vital role in their business activities - whether it’s transporting people or goods and services.

“Some of these businesses already feel like they have lost out on their investment in diesel after being given guidance by multiple governments.”

To help small businesses through the transition, the FSB has called on government to provide an extended scrappage scheme for older diesel vehicles that covers all small businesses based in, or frequently operating within, affected areas. 

The London Assembly has recently launched its own vehicle checker tools for cars and fleets to help vehicle users adapt to forthcoming charges in London.