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SMEs support UK clean air zone plans despite potential costs

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Small businesses throughout the UK have given their support to local clean air zone schemes, despite them potentially incurring substantial costs for tolls and vehicle replacements.

Local authorities throughout the UK are having to formulate proposals to cut pollution after checks revealed they were exceeding official limits.

More than 40 towns and cities in the UK are at, or exceeding, air pollution limits set by the World Health Organisation and a number will introduce Clean Air Zones (CAZ) as a result.

Traffic is a key focus and London is already planning to launch an ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) in April 2019.

Five other cities – Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton – will have to introduce CAZs by 2020.

The government has also identified a further 23 local authorities in its air quality plan where CAZs could be introduced to drive down emissions.

According to the latest Close Brothers Asset Finance Business Barometer, three-quarters (75%) of SMEs have indicated they are in favour of CAZs to help address air pollution in UK towns and cities.

There is less support for the introduction of charges to enter cities, although 60% of business owners still say they are prepared to pay if a vehicle fails to meet the required environmental standards.

Regionally, London-based businesses were the most likely to pay, with 72% saying ‘yes’, while Welsh firms at 49% were least likely.

Businesses turning over less than £250,000 were least prepared to pay to enter a clean-air zone.

In a bid to reduce pollution, CAZs are expected to either charge vehicles to enter cities if they don’t meet certain emissions limits, or they could ban them altogether.

The government has left the detail of the schemes to each local authority, raising fears of a patchwork of rules depending on where companies operate.

If vehicle operators run a relatively modern fleet, they are likely to avoid problems, which may lead to growing demand for asset finance to fund replacement of older vehicles.

Government officials recently warned van and truck operators they could lose out to more forward-thinking competitors if they don’t start investigating the potential for low emission vehicles on their fleets.

The Close Brothers Asset Finance research showed that 75% of transport and haulage operators supported CAZ plans.

Neil Davies, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance, said: “It’s encouraging to see hauliers so positive.

“They are often an easy target for critics of vehicle emissions, but like everyone else they have a stake in ensuring air quality improves.”