Following a recent consultation, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has provided details of how Implementation Funds and Clean Air Funds can be used to support individuals and businesses, including fleet operators.
Awarded clean air funds may be used, according to the Government, to help authorities to establish local vehicle scrappage schemes and methods for retrofitting vans and trucks with greener technology like LPG.
The £255m Implementation Fund is available for local authorities to help enact air quality improvement plans, while a £220m Clean Air Fund is reserved for the authorities with the most pressing pollution problems to bid for.
Some of the measures the Government suggests could be supported by the Clean Air Fund include (but are not limited to):
• Changes to road layouts
• Changes to cycling and walking infrastructure
• Public transport improvement or park-and-ride schemes
• Promotion of car clubs
• Vehicle retrofitting schemes
• Investment in travel planning services
Individual & business measures
• Local travel discounts and/or smart ticketing
• Cycle-to-work schemes
• Local car scrappage schemes
• Extra support for upgrading to ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs)
Reporting to the consultation, the Government recognised the potential impacts air quality measures could have on sole traders, small businesses, van drivers and similar. Upgrading to compliant vehicles can be expensive and, as a result, restrictive in terms of viable options.
Retrofitting pollution-reducing technology to older vehicles is a low-cost alternative to buying a new ULEV outright, which the Government states will be a key aspect of reducing nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere while supporting individuals and business through potential impacts.
Clean Air Fund resources could also encourage smaller businesses to upgrade vehicles by offering the chance to freely test ULEVs before purchasing, or by offering subsidies and/or preferential parking for electric vehicle adopters.
Any authorities bidding for resources from the Clean Air Fund, however, must be able to demonstrate that funding from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEC) cannot be utilised, and no State Aid concerns exist.
The Government also stated its recognition of the potential negative impacts of charging zones, or area access restrictions, on operations within the freight and heavy duty sector.
Measures such as discounts on charges for businesses within Clean Air Zones, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, have seen some support from the Government. Exemptions and discounts, it suggested, could be provided to those with a clear roadmap towards compliance, and local authorities are encouraged to consider where groups facing challenges with Clean Air Zones could benefit.
However, Defra also suggested that – due to the large amount of small businesses nationwide – implementation of exemptions could lead to delays in achieving full compliance. Additionally, any measures like discounts must also ensure that the outcomes and benefits delivered by the zone are not slowed.
The Government announced that over £40m from the overall Implementation Fund has already been awarded, allowing select local authorities to take quicker action to improve air quality. Awarded funding so far includes:
• £11.7m to the 28 local authorities facing the biggest challenges to carrying out air quality improvements, including securing necessary resources and expertise
• £24.5m to the same local areas, supporting measures from electric charge point installation, junction improvements, cycle routes, ultra-low emission taxis, traffic monitoring systems and more
• £2.4m from 2017/18’s Air Quality Grant for community air quality improvement initiatives, in addition to £3.7m awarded last year allowing Westminster City Council to offer toolkits to SMEs with advice on reducing transport emissions from everyday operations
• £1.65m to the 33 local authorities asked to engage in feasibility studies, identifying ways to hasten compliance dates in the shortest time period
Environment minister Thérèse Coffey said: "Improving air quality is about more than just tackling emissions from transport, so later this year we will publish a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy. This will set out how we will address all forms of air pollution, delivering cleaner air for the whole country."
However, Simon Alcock – head of UK public affairs at ClientEarth – was critical of the Government’s statements.
“This is a pitiful response from the Government, which is yet again shirking its responsibility to clean up our country’s harmful and illegal air pollution,” he said. “The proposal outlined today is of no value to anybody. Michael Gove has passed the buck yet again to local councils to see if they can do his work for him.
"No extra money has been allocated to the fund, despite the fact that the number of councils expected to come up with air quality plans has more than doubled following ClientEarth’s recent victory in the High Court. And the car industry, which helped get us into this mess is still not paying a single penny to help get us out of it.”
In its consultation response, however, the Government openly welcomed manufacturer-led scrappage schemes as a means of helping owners to purchase vehicles with lower emissions, saying it will continue to work with manufacturers to further encourage adoption of these schemes.