The planned rollout of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in the UK has been halted until 2021 to allow the government and businesses to focus on overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic.
The decision was confirmed by Rebecca Pow, a junior minister at the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), in a letter sent to David Wells, the chief executive of the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
Pow confirmed the implementation will be postponed until at least January 2021, due to it being a "difficult time" for the industry, which is coming under increased pressure to deliver goods around the country despite staff numbers falling and the impact of social distancing rules.
The CAZs, planned for cities including Bristol, Birmingham and Leeds, were set to limit the number of polluting vehicles entering the city centre during certain periods, much like London's existing Ultra Low Emission Zone. Some went further, with Bristol proposing to ban privately owned diesel vehicles between 7am and 3pm every day and charge high-polluting commercial vehicles for the privilege.
Both Birmingham and Leeds city councils had written to Defra in the past week to request a delay to the rollout of the programmes.
Natalie Chapman, head of urban policy at the FTA, said: “While the FTA and its members support fully the government’s ambition to improve air quality across the UK, to achieve compliance with the schemes businesses would have to undertake significant work and planning.
"With the industry focusing all its attention on ensuring the public, supermarkets and other retailers continue to receive the essential items they need during the pandemic, logistics businesses simply do not have the resources to dedicate to preparing for the imminent introduction of CAZs."