Clean Air Zone Sheffield: greener air or greenwashing?

Sheffield businesses have taken to the streets and social media in protest over the council’s Clean Air Zone following its launch.

According to the council, the zone aims to target NO2 levels within the inner ring road and city centre to tackle the consequent pollution.

Private cars and motorbikes are not affected however vans, campervans, pickup trucks, HGVs and minibuses that do not meet European petrol and diesel standards face charges of ranging from £10 to £50 a day.

However, some Sheffield businesses have been quick to point out contradictions in the council’s plan. Accusing them of ‘greenwashing’ and using environmental issues as an excuse for financial gain.

John Robinson, who works for a busy food bank in the city, said: “As a charity we cannot afford to pay a fine every time I drive through the city centre to distribute food to people in food crisis.”

Mr Robinson said to get around the charge he swapped his 1.6L diesel van for a 2.9L large estate car. The car does not incur the CAZ charges despite causing, ‘almost double the emissions of the van’.

This is not the only criticism of the legitimacy of the council’s CAZ plan, Archers Construction Ltd also opposes it.

Luke Archer, owner of the company, doubts the effectiveness of the scheme.  He thinks the CAZ will only force drivers onto back roads to avoid charges, meaning they take longer routes and pollute further. 

“I could technically absorb the cost of the charge, but like many in my position I refuse to out of principle”, he said, expressing his concern about the already dwindling number of tradesmen. 

The council was contacted to respond to these comments. Business Change Manager Jonny Pearce was confident the clean air zone will work in the city and that drivers will abide by it.

“Our modelling shows that, while some vehicles will divert to another zone, the majority will not.”

Mr Pearce said that the council would continue to monitor road usage and consider further measures if traffic avoiding the chargeable zones became an issue.

It isn’t just businesses bashing the council’s new plans. Members of the Facebook group ‘Clean Air for Sheffield’ are also disillusioned with the CAZ.

Commenters on the page believe the implementation is flawed and not solely aimed at greener air for Sheffield.

Caitlin Lastra, one of the commenters, points out how sole traders are being treated the same as established corporations such as Amazon which is fuelling anger within the community. 

“This does nothing to reduce traffic on the roads,” she said. “Someone who drives a commercial vehicle isn’t going to see the charge and go, ‘Oh I’ll get the bus today instead’.”

Others in the comments also believe the council is focusing on financial incentives rather than tackling the sources of air pollution. 

They think bigger problems need to be addressed, including the issues of woodburning in residential areas and NO2 produced by idling diesel trains to the manufacturing businesses not covered by the CAZ.

Written by Estelle Coulter

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