Manufacturers in Birmingham, a key hub for Britain’s automotive industry, are warning that a planned pollution charge for vehicles threatens their future in the city.
The local authority in Birmingham is proposing that the most polluting lorries pay £100 a day and the dirtiest cars up to £12.50 to enter the city centre from 2020.
Birmingham is one of several cities required by the government to introduce clean air zones as the UK seeks to avoid a big EU fine.
Vehicle pollution— notably nitrogen dioxide emitted in significant quantities by older diesel cars and lorries — is estimated by Birmingham council to contribute to up to 900 premature deaths in the city each year.
The Labour-controlled council is therefore proposing a clean air zone within Birmingham’s A4540 ring road, a 9 sq km area where 200,000 vehicles travel each day.
This contains many small manufacturers who keep the wheels turning at big car factories including those run by Jaguar Land Rover, and some of these supply chain businesses are warning the council’s scheme will have a dramatic impact on costs.
Matt Harwood of Barkley Plastics, a family-owned maker of mouldings such as headlight cases and door handles that is located inside the A4540, expressed fears that hauliers delivering raw materials to the company would respond to the pollution charge by raising prices.
“It would hurt our competitiveness,” he said, adding that Barkley’s customers, which buy more than 1m parts a week, would switch orders to companies elsewhere.
“It’s not just our business but lots of others affected,” said Mr Harwood. “I am not sure if the benefits of the [clean air zone] will outweigh the thousands of jobs that would be lost.”
Rowan Crozier, chief executive of Brandauer, a metals pressing specialist supplying the auto industry, said his business located close to the A4540 might be forced to move.
“I understand the council needs to clean up the air,” he added. “But SMEs have enough challenges to face already. This will increase costs.”
Mr Crozier said his biggest fear was losing staff, given most of his 65 employees drive to work, and many use the ring road.
He is also chair of MAN, a network of nine Birmingham manufacturers, and said they were all concerned about the pollution charge.
Birmingham council, which intends to finalise its scheme this month, said it had to reduce the amount of nitrogen dioxide to legal limits set by the EU.
The pollution charge is likely to affect most diesel cars built before 2015 and petrol vehicles manufactured before 2006, along with lorries and buses made before September 2016.
About 45 per cent of the vehicles currently travelling into Birmingham’s proposed clean air zone would be charged, according to the council.
A council study found that even if 97 per cent of vehicles met modern emissions standards, safe nitrogen dioxide levels would still be breached in the city so further anti-pollution measures are expected to be needed.
It also warned that many Birmingham residents could not afford the pollution charge and there “may be a reduction in quality of life due to reduced mobility”. They would need compensation or help buying a newer car, added the study.
The Conservative opposition on the council said the plans punish drivers who bought diesel cars in good faith. Tory group leader Robert Alden has said public transport is not a viable alternative. “Birmingham is not London,” he added.
Birmingham council’s consultation on its proposed clean air zone generated more than 10,000 public responses — the largest ever. “We are now carefully considering the feedback received to see what measures are required to help those likely to be most adversely affected by the proposals,” said the council.
The European Commission is taking the UK and five other countries to court for their illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide.
The British government has asked 55 councils to come up with plans to reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide by December, as well as six cities with an earlier deadline of September, including Birmingham. They have up to £255m in funding to do so, alongside a £220m clean air fund to help implement traffic reduction schemes.
However, London mayor Sadiq Khan has said the central government funding is insufficient. He wants a national diesel scrappage scheme, capable of buying older cars from the public.
Last October Mr Khan introduced a T-charge (T stands for toxicity) of £10 a day on the most polluting cars and £100 for the dirtiest lorries. This will convert from next year into a fee to enter an ultra-low emission zone in London.
The other cities with the most advanced plans to create clean air zones are Leeds and Southampton, but neither will charge cars.
Leeds has proposed charging older buses and lorries £50 a day and taxis £12.50. Southampton is consulting on charging lorries £100 a day and taxis £12.50.