A protest organised by members of the Facebook group ‘Campaign against chargeable clean air zone Sheffield’, took place on Saturday. Protesters are angry over Sheffield City Council’s plans that will begin on Monday 27 February, meaning that all ‘non-compliant commercial vehicles’ that enter the zone will have to pay a daily charge dependent on their type of vehicle – £10 per day for polluting vans/LGVs and taxis; £50 per day for coaches, buses and lorries/HGVs.
The protest saw around 300 people meet outside Sheffield City Hall to take a peaceful march down Fargate and the Moor, before finishing at the crossing outside the train station. Despite the turnout, this wasn’t reflective of the 5.4k people who are members of the Facebook group, and the numerous negative comments on a post by Sheffield Online in response to the CAZ plans when they shared our previous article.
A nonsensical idea?
As the Sheffield CAZ plans to charge only non-compliant commercial vehicle users, and not private cars at this moment in time, many protesters believe that a lot of the general public are unaware of the impact the charges will have on many small business and taxi drivers in Sheffield. For example, those businesses who rely on deliveries within the zone, many of whom are already struggling due to the effects of lockdown and the rise in fuel prices.
Firstly, it’s important to note that these people were not protesting against ‘clean air’ but the charges that will be imposed, stating on their Facebook page, “we all want clean air but chargeable clean air zones do not work, it’s just another tax”. Some protesters expressed confusion as to why the ring-road, which was built to divert traffic and emissions away from the city centre, is included in the zone. This makes it impossible for drivers to bypass the charges and some believe this will particularly catch out those drivers who aren’t from Sheffield and aren’t familiar with the area.
As a result, many agree that the CAZ plans don’t actually make sense, and won’t help to improve Sheffield’s air quality. In addition to this, as mentioned by Toby Foster on BBC Radio Sheffield when interviewing Councillor Julie Grocutt, the standard of air quality the council is trying to achieve has already been achieved. Protesters are left wondering why the CAZ is needed in the first place, as Leeds scrapped theirs after reaching air quality standards, and instead focused on reducing emissions in alternative ways, while Manchester is hoping to reach a fairer plan for its people.
A divisive issue
The protesters held numerous signs, placards and banners including messages such as ‘my van passed its emissions test’, ‘clean air? suffocating businesses’, and ‘CAZ tax affects us all’. A number of speakers also took to the megaphone in an aim to share the group’s message, including one young girl who pleaded with the people, “save my freedom”.
The day saw numerous opinions being shared including an opposer to the protest who took the megaphone to say a few words. He was worried about the city’s air quality, stating, “my kids have got asthma”. Believing that we need the CAZ for the benefit of people’s health, he added, “the clean air zone has got a huge amount of support in Sheffield”.
He was then heckled by the CAZ protesters with “and do they live in the city centre?” and “how do they get their deliveries?”. I witnessed a young man from the protest interviewing him further about his viewpoint, with the opposition agreeing that people need more financial support to help with the charges, to which the CAZ protester told him, “we have more in common than we think”.
You could argue that most issues are political, but protesters were encouraged by one of the speakers ‘not to bring politics into this’ and instead be united on the subject. There were people from all different walks of life and political backgrounds that gathered to fight for their common cause, and it showed just how many different people this may affect.
Bad for business
Local people in attendance are worried about the effects it will have on their businesses and livelihoods, as many have been denied grants from the council and feel it’s a lost cause. Protesters told me they also want to spread the main message to the general public that the plans are unfair and will make the poor poorer as “people who CAN afford to upgrade their vehicles to new, less-pollutant models will be EXEMPT from charges, but it is the people who CAN’T afford to upgrade who will be hit with the charges and fines”.
A delivery driver who can’t afford to upgrade their lorry said:
“The cost of retrofitting a lorry to make it cleaner and compliant can be around the £20,000 bench mark, but we haven’t had our grant application approved as we are based over ‘5km away from the CAZ boundary’, despite still having a Sheffield postcode, which doesn’t make sense.”
They went on to say, “we have tried contacting the council multiple times about alternative options but have not had a response”. They will have no choice but to pay £50 when entering the zone with their non-compliant vehicle, or take a detour which will use more fuel and produce more emissions, all the while losing time, business and money.
Many other businesses are in a similar situation, left without financial support and struggling in a market where cleaner vehicle options are currently unaffordable or unavailable. For example, one person explained to me that “it can be between £35,000-45,000 for a compliant Euro VI lorry but the council expecting people to upgrade in such a short time-frame is unsustainable in itself. We rely on bigger companies updating their vehicles, for their older models to then come into the market place in a natural progression, whilst letting older vehicles run their course”.
Another business owner will be hit hard, saying that “it’s an extra £200 a week”, with many of these extra charges then being forced onto their customers through increased prices at a time when many people are already struggling. Many people are in agreement with this business owner that “having to pay £10 or £50 a day, will not make the air any cleaner, it will just run these small businesses and sole traders into the ground”.
A slippery slope?
It’s important to note that a lot of people were also concerned about their freedoms and worried that once a chargeable zone comes into place, where will it stop? Will it continue to expand and start charging other motorists in the future? Protesters aimed to warn and educate the public that although it might not directly affect them now, “private cars will be next”, if the current CAZ plans aren’t challenged.
Despite some discussions regarding climate change and 15-minute cities, the main focus of the protest was to convey the anger of the people whose livelihoods will suffer due to what many believe is a money-making scheme. Many feel Sheffield City Council doesn’t care about the city’s air quality or the people of Sheffield, but solely about the money they can make from a chargeable CAZ.
With the clean air zone looming in Sheffield, these protesters want more of the general public to be aware of what is going on in their city. They also want the council to reconsider its plans, believing the current plan of a chargeable CAZ is unfair, doesn’t help to reduce emissions and doesn’t take into consideration the people of Sheffield whose livelihoods will suffer.