Drivers will not be charged for entering Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ) for the first two weeks, the city council has announced.
Enforcement of the scheme was due to begin on Tuesday, but has been delayed until June 14.
The council’s cabinet member for transport and environment, Waseem Zaffar, said: “Whilst we have agreed on a two-week soft launch period where people won’t have to pay, I would encourage everyone to use this time to check their vehicles, familiarise themselves with the charging process and check out the support that is still available through the Brum Breathes website.”
The scheme was originally due to go live during 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
One Tory MP for the city said the Labour-run local authority’s “soft launch” announcement beggared belief, adding “Thank God this lot aren’t in control of a brewery”.
However, a Labour MP welcomed the CAZ, saying “bold” ideas were needed to cut “dangerous” city emissions.
Non-compliant cars, taxis and vans will have to pay an £8 daily charge – with enforcement cameras operating around the clock every day of the year.
Coaches, buses and HGVs which do not meet minimum requirements face a £50 charge for entering the zone, which covers all roads within the A4540 Middleway ring road.
The AA said 100,000 vehicle owners will be affected, with the financial burden falling on lower-income and younger drivers.
Similar plans for London and Bristol could hit 600,000 car owners, according to the motoring organisation.
AA president Edmund King said: “Poor air quality is a threat that the majority of drivers agree needs to be addressed and reduced; in due course electric vehicles will largely eradicate those emissions.
“However, the car CAZs in Bristol and Birmingham and the extended Ultra Low Emission Zone in London are very blunt tools that create a tax burden for low-income families and workers.”
He added: “These drivers are least able to afford to replace the vehicles they depend on for work, often night shifts, and sometimes emergencies such as going to hospital or healthcare centres.
“They are also the ones least able to pay the fines.”
The city council, which is offering exemption permits for in-zone residents, said the initiative is crucial to improving air quality and public health in central Birmingham.
It has set up a £10 million scheme offering £2,000 grants to support people working in the CAZ, and who earn less than £30,000 per annum, with the option of scrapping a vehicle that would otherwise be subject to the daily fee.
Nicola Richards, Conservative MP for West Bromwich East – outside the CAZ – said: “Birmingham City Council’s Clean Air Zone should’ve begun today. But it’s been delayed by two weeks yet again.”
“I’ve been against this charge from the start,” she added.
“Whilst reducing air pollution is key, taxing residents to travel into the city for work, leisure, shopping, or visiting the hospitals is simply not on.
“Especially when not all families can afford a new car.
“Birmingham City Council decided to add the charge unnecessarily, elsewhere in the country Clear Air Zones have been successful and free.”
Fellow Tory MP Gary Sambrook, who represents Birmingham Northfield, said: “Thank God this lot aren’t in control of a brewery … beggars belief that Labour’s flagship policy for Birmingham stumbles on launch day.”
However, Labour’s Birmingham Edgbaston MP Preet Gill, said the CAZ would help “reduce the dangerous levels of air pollution in our city”.
She added: “We must enact bold, new ideas if we are to fix this problem.
“Well done Birmingham City Council and Waseem Zaffar.”