Councillors are calling for urgent action from government to enable a vital Clean Air Zone support scheme for Tyneside taxi drivers and small businesses to go ahead.
Newcastle and Gateshead councils submitted final Clean Air Zone (CAZ) proposals to government in October last year but are still waiting for ministerial approval along with details of how much funding will be offered to support those affected.
The CAZ, which is due to launch in July 2022, is being implemented in response to a government legal order requiring steps to be taken to reduce illegal levels of pollution in certain areas.
When implemented, the zone will cover most of Newcastle city centre and routes over the Tyne, Swing, High Level and Redheugh bridges. Charges to enter the zone will apply to taxis, vans, buses, coaches and HGVs that don’t meet national CAZ emissions standards. Private cars will not be affected.
While the authorities were initially granted some funding from government to help mitigate the impact on businesses or vehicle owners, they have argued that this is not enough and requested more. As part of their proposals, submitted in October, councils in Newcastle and Gateshead have requested £23m to provide financial support to taxi drivers, companies and small business people who will need to upgrade their vehicles to reduce their emissions and avoid charges.
Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader at Gateshead Council, said: “Despite having submitted our proposals back in October, we are still waiting for approval for our final business case from government and, more importantly, for confirmation of the funding that will be provided to support and protect North East drivers and businesses.
“Clearly we need this information as a matter of urgency. We have only five months until the CAZ is due to be introduced and drivers need time to apply for grants and to upgrade their vehicles.”
Affected drivers will be offered grants towards the cost of replacing or upgrading non-compliant vehicles but the exact amount drivers will be offered cannot be confirmed until Newcastle and Gateshead councils receive formal approval of the details of the government funding.
The councils are looking at offering temporary exemptions from CAZ charges, in some circumstances, to help businesses make the transition to compliance. Details of these arrangements are also awaiting confirmation from government.
Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader at Newcastle City Council, said: “This is a worrying time for people who are facing additional costs, not to mention potential delays in obtaining a new vehicle due to the serious supply chain issues affecting other parts of the country where government Clean Air Zones are being brought in.
“We want to be able to give clear information and details about the financial support that will be offered and we’re asking government to act now so that we can give people some certainty and reassurance of the help available to them.”
While councils await final approval and confirmation of support packages from government, steps to ensure the CAZ implementation remains on target are ongoing. A report to cabinet members at both councils sets out a series of legal and administrative arrangements that are required to be in place in order for the CAZ to be implemented.