Fears are growing for businesses and drivers in Sheffield as the council’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ) nears its start date. Signs have appeared in the city centre, with many people only just becoming aware of the plans for a chargeable ‘Clean Air Zone’, which is set to go live on Monday 27 February.
According to Sheffield City Council’s website, the “class C chargeable zone” will affect the “most polluting heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), light goods vehicles (LGVs), vans, buses, coaches and taxis that drive within the inner ring road and city centre”. However, “private cars and motorbikes will not be charged” at this moment in time. Like similar zone across the UK, CAZs are intended to reduce pollution and improve quality of life for residents, as “air pollution contributes to 500 deaths a year in Sheffield“.
However, many people who operate the affected vehicles throughout the city centre now have growing concerns about the future of their business, as many have been denied financial support to upgrade their vehicles to newer, less polluting models which would be exempt from charges. These drivers will either have to avoid the CAZ altogether or have no choice but to pay the subsequent daily charge for driving within it (£10 per day for vans/LGVs/taxis or £50 per day for coaches, buses and HGVs).
A postcode lottery
Although grants are available for some drivers, many people are missing out due to criteria which one business owner believes “doesn’t make any sense”. One local haulage company, which is based in the north of the city and has been operating for over 60 years, has been denied financial assistance.
The family-run business has been denied a grant to upgrade their ‘polluting’ vehicles to the newer Euro VI model as their business is registered to an address that ‘is over 5km away from the CAZ boundary’, despite holding a Sheffield postcode. The owner explained:
“We need to travel into the city centre for work but now we fear being fined £50 a day, which is an unsustainable cost in these already tough economic times with prices already going up, not to mention the hike in fuel prices.”
The only way to avoid the CAZ and its charges is to find alternative routes and detours around the zone. In turn, this creates a number of potential problems including an increase in outer-city traffic, fuel consumption, congestion and potentially more accidents, but most ironically, will this result in more pollution from emissions as people take longer journeys to bypass the CAZ?
Campaigning against the CAZ
A Facebook group called ‘Campaign against chargeable clean air zone Sheffield’ has been set up and has gradually been gaining momentum, with membership standing at 1k last week, a figure which has since doubled to almost 3k. The page states, “We all want clean air but chargeable clean air zones do not work it’s just another tax“.
Unhappy, angry members are regularly posting their concerns about the council’s decision and how it will have a negative effect on local businesses coming into Sheffield for work, as well as a knock-on increase in how much these businesses will have to charge for their services.
Although private cars are currently exempt from charges, some people in the group have mentioned potentially boycotting the CAZ altogether and going elsewhere for activities like shopping and leisure. However, this would reduce footfall in the area, and lead to growing fears about the future of Sheffield City Centre which some have argued is already ‘on its knees’.
Destined to fail?
Chargeable ‘Clean Air Zones’ are nothing new and have already been put into operation in other parts of the country including Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol and Portsmouth. However, it appears that many Sheffield residents and business owners are hoping that Sheffield City Council will rethink their plans and follow Manchester City Council who have recently postponed their plans for the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone in order to reach a more sustainable and fairer plan ‘that does not put jobs, livelihoods and businesses at risk’.
With just a month to go before charges begin, it appears many Sheffield businesses are still without answers as to how they’ll be able to survive without the appropriate guidance and financial support, leaving many people fearing for their livelihoods.