Diesel car drivers spared extra charges in Leeds low emission zone

A general view of Bridgewater Place in Leeds city centre, the tallest building in Yorkshire.

Drivers of diesel cars may be feeling slightly demonised of late, with a new toxicity charge in central London, higher parking charges in certain areas and talk of outright bans from some cities. But drivers in Leeds will face no such charges, after the city council decided to nix a potential diesel charge in favour of penalising older lorries, coaches, and taxis instead.

Leeds is the first of 28 cities required to publish plans to tackle air pollution. While drivers in the city were no doubt expecting a clampdown, the council ruled out targeting private diesel cars – citing the difficulty for low-income families to afford to change their vehicle.

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"We felt it would have a disproportionate impact on low-income households which have old cars and don't have the regular income to change them," said Lucinda Yeadon, executive council board member for the environment. Though the council acknowledged a charge for diesel cars would reduce pollution, "the cost economically and socially of doing that would have been significant."

The council is instead considering a proposal to encompass the area inside the outer ring road. Pre-2015 lorries, buses and coaches could be charged as much as £100 per day to drive in this zone, while taxis would attract charges of £12.50 per day – unless hybrid or fully electric.

Leeds' proposals could shape the plans for other cities tasked with reducing pollution, including Birmingham, Nottingham and Southampton.

Richard Dyer, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: "Leeds city council has shied away from the action needed to reduce air pollution in the quickest time possible and include measures to deter the most polluting cars.

"This is the predictable result of a weak air quality plan from the government, which heaped responsibility onto struggling local authorities and failed to mandate the action that we need to save lives."

But Ms Yeadon defended the plans, saying it simply wasn't viable for all drivers to switch from diesel. "People bought diesel cars in good faith because successive governments encouraged them. It took months and months for me to get an electric car and there is an issue that dealerships aren't ready for this yet. There needs to be a national process to make sure the availability is there."

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