Councils call on government to act on CAZ support fund
Councilors are calling for urgent action from the Government to enable a vital Clean Air Zone support scheme to be put in place for taxi drivers and small businesses in Tyneside.
Newcastle and Gateshead councils submitted final Clean Air Zone (CAZ) proposals to government in October last year but are still awaiting ministerial approval as well as details of how much funding will be offered to support the people affected.
The CAZ, due to launch in July 2022, is being implemented in response to a government decree requiring action to be taken to reduce illegal levels of pollution in certain areas.
Once implemented, the zone will cover most of Newcastle city center and roads across the Tyne, Swing, High Level and Redheugh bridges. Zone entry charges will apply to taxis, vans, buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles that do not meet national CAZ emissions standards. Passenger cars will not be affected.
Although authorities initially received government funding to help mitigate the impact on businesses or vehicle owners, they argued that this was not enough and demanded more. As part of their proposals, submitted in October, Newcastle and Gateshead councils have asked for £23million to provide financial support to taxi drivers, businesses and small entrepreneurs who will need to retrofit their vehicles to reduce their emissions and avoid fees.
Cllr Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council, said: “Although we submitted our proposals in October, we are still awaiting approval of our final business case by the Government and, more importantly, confirmation of the funding which will be provided to support and protect North East drivers and businesses.
“It is clear that we need this information urgently. We only have five months before the introduction of the CAZ and drivers need time to apply for subsidies and modernize their vehicles.
Affected drivers will be offered grants for the cost of replacing or upgrading non-compliant vehicles, but the exact amount that will be offered to drivers cannot be confirmed until Newcastle and Gateshead councils have received formal approval of government funding details.
The councils are considering offering temporary exemptions from CAZ fees, in certain circumstances, to help businesses transition to compliance. The details of these arrangements also await confirmation from the government.
People can sign up to receive updates on CAZ support programs by completing the sign up form at www.breathe-cleanair.com. Information will be sent as details of government support are confirmed.
Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “This is a worrying time for people facing extra costs, not to mention potential delays in getting a new vehicle due to the serious supply chain issues affecting other parts of the country where government Clean Air Zones are being implemented.
“We want to be able to give clear information and details about the financial support that will be offered and we are asking the government to act now so that we can give people some certainty and reassurance about the help that is available to them. .”
As councils await final approval and confirmation of government support packages, measures to ensure CAZ implementation remains on target are underway.
A report to cabinet members from both councils sets out a series of legal and administrative arrangements that must be in place for the CAZ to be implemented.
Councilors will be asked to agree to these arrangements at Cabinet meetings on Monday 21 February (Newcastle) and Tuesday 22 February (Gateshead).