What does new air quality legislation mean for UK logistics?

New UK legislation affects all vehicles

The government’s new measures to control air quality will have a number of impacts on the logistics industry. However, the requirements are nowhere near as stringent as feared. Despite the government having said that 2050 emissions targets meant that ‘almost all new vehicles sold would have to be near zero emission at the tailpipe by 2040’ hybrid car sales will still be allowed which was in doubt until the new legislation was revealed.

Logistics UK and road use – a barrier to progress?

One of the new suggestions is that 80 motorways and A-roads with profoundly poor air quality could be considered for charging zones as a way of reducing air pollution as quickly and cost effectively as possible. While the government says these charging zones should only be seen as ‘a last resort’, many people are already saying that this approach will simply transfer the problem to local authorities who may view it as a money-raising opportunity. The UK logistics and HGV industry is reckoned to produce 17% of all UK traffic emissions, making it a key target for government legislation.

Charging for transport

The government has given clear guidelines as to how, when and where councils can charge for road use, stating that:

  • other options must be exhausted before charges are applied
  • restrictions must be time limited
  • restrictions must be lifted as soon as pollution is within legal limits.

However, several haulage companies have expressed concern that this may make areas of the UK, particularly around the Midlands, into no-go areas and drive large amounts of traffic to more rural roads with resulting congestion.

Surgical interventions to reduce road pollution

A 250 million budget has been set to allow local authorities to create ‘surgical interventions’ that will reduce pollution. Suggestions for use include improving public transport and changing road layouts. Local authorities will have 18 months from July 2017 to submit plans against this budget.

Scrappage Schemes are not an option

Despite lobbying from the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and much debate in the industry, a national scrappage scheme to help small businesses and commercial vehicle owners has not been a central feature of the government’s new plan. The hope was that such businesses would be given help to operate within Clean Air Zones, (CAZ) and that specialist HGVs with higher pollution levels because of their cooling or other ambient facilities would be offered higher levels of support. The FTA argued that air quality is constantly improving and that the government needs to ensure health benefits are met with the least economic disruption.

Second hand vehicles and Clean Air Zones

27 of the UK’s 43 regions are claimed to be in breach of international clean air regulations, according to several environmental charities and the opportunity for regions to create Clear Air Zones is considered to be the fastest route to reducing air pollution. However, there are currently only around five year’s worth of CAZ compliant HGVs in the UK and the small businesses and specialist operators who are more likely to buy second-hand vehicles will find themselves facing a massive leap in expenditure when they come to upgrade their vehicles. Essentially the short period in which CAZ compliant vehicles have been produced means there is almost no second-hand market, causing extreme hardship for small UK logistics firms.

Reducing pollution through road use changes

The one saving grace in the new plan is that local authorities will be required to try all other options before opting for CAZ charging for diesel vehicles. This means that they must remove or reduce speed bumps and retrofit diesel buses with pollution capture before charges can begin. However, with even the most recent diesel cars releasing more nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than regulations require, CAZ charging is probably imminent.

New funding for electric vehicles?

One possibility was that new funding for electric public service vehicles like taxis and hydrogen vehicles might have operated as an offset, especially for small logistics organisations which could more easily make fleet adjustments. Sadly, the 2016 announcement of funding for this option has not been increased.

Biogas as a solution?

The Engineer reports that a substantial trial of biogas powered lorries is being undertaken by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, a subsection of the Department of Transport. In partnership with Innovate UK the project will trial five sizes of HGV from 12 to 44 Tonnes across the UK and will examine fuel efficiency, reliability and cost. Three fuels are being tested: compressed natural gas (CNG), liquified natural gas (LNG) and bio-methane. The two gases are expected to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 8%, while bio-methane is likely to produce a reduction of an astonishing 70%. Retrofitting for these fuels is expensive and new vehicles running on them are largely untested over vehicle lifetimes so the study aims to examine the true viability of alternative fuels.

How to adjust to new legislation when organising logistics

3PL companies and warehousing may be the saviour of many small UK logistics firms, giving them flexibility about locating stock and timely ways to move material around the country as the varying elements of the new Clean Air policy take effect.

London will be a particular problem, as the new Direct Vision Standard proposed by the London Mayor also means that only HGVs rated 3 star or above on the Direct Vision scale can enter the city. This could reduce current HGV access to the capital by up to 38% – smaller vehicles and flexible warehousing (sourced by us) will be essential for straightforward distribution of goods, to continue once this proposal is fully implemented in 2020.

Challenges to the new plan

One charity, ClientEarth, is already considering going back to court to challenge the new government proposals as not being effective enough. The government was forced to review legislation when the Supreme Court judged previous plans not effective and timely – a further failure could lead to substantial changes to the current policy, therefore wise logistics organisations will not jump too rapidly into changing working practices to meet the present requirements, at least until the challenge has been heard in court.

We provide professional warehouse space and various warehouse services across the UK, including third party logistics and national distribution.

We specialise in sourcing the best industrial spaces and services available, which will help your supply chain run as efficiently as possible, with both your costs and requirements in mind. The government’s changes in legislation regarding the control of air quality will impact on transportation costs, therefore cost saving where possible is advised. We can help you work with competitive warehouse rates.


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