Council meeting on Clean Air Zone halted by angry taxi drivers
Angry taxi drivers brought a council meeting to a halt as a row broke out over the impact of the Birmingham city centre Clean Air Zone.
They claimed they are being ‘forced off the road’ and warned that further go-slow protests around the city centre are now likely.
Birmingham City Council’s Licensing and Public Protection committee passed a controversial new emissions policy which means hundreds of Hackney Carriage and private drivers will have to upgrade or replace their vehicles if they are to continue working in the city from next year.
But the meeting on Wednesday spiralled out of control when drivers were told they would not be allowed to speak about the changes.
They voiced their dissatisfaction and approached committee members to remonstrate prompting a number of councillors to leave the room.
The meeting was adjourned for several minutes before it resumed and the committee approved the policy.
The new policy introduces a raft of changes, but in the main it replaces the Euro 4 (petrol) and Euro 6 (diesel) vehicle standards – applying to other cars entering the Clean Air Zone – with an age limit.
From January 2020 no diesel Hackney Carriages older than 15 years old will be granted a licence, unless they have been converted in the council’s LPG pilot scheme.
It means out of around 1,120 black cab drivers only 493 will be licensed with more than 620 forced to upgrade. Although the council said 350 of those would be eligible for an LPG conversion.
The age limit for private hire vehicles was set at 12 years meaning around 2,700 out of more than 4,100 drivers will be licensed from January.
An ‘exceptional condition test’, which previously allowed older vehicles to operate longer, will be scrapped and only applicable to vehicles which have been retrofitted by a Government-approved scheme.
Another controversial proposal in the policy means that from January 1, 2021, all newly licensed vehicles will have to be ultra low emission, when previously the date had been 2026.
The policy has been changed significantly from original plans following consultation with drivers who put forward alternative suggestions and made a list of requests.
But not all their demands have been met.
Chairman Councillor Barbara Dring said: “We have done the best that we can, that’s the commitment I have given to you (drivers) and that’s the commitment I have made.”
Craig Johnston, regional organiser in the Midlands for the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said: “This will drive people off the road. Many members have told me this will push them into financial hardship and some of them will have to give up.
“Managing change is difficult and meeting these targets (for air pollution) was going to be challenging however taking people with you in this is more likely to lead to a successful conclusion than brassing everyone off which is what the council has managed to do today by shutting down the meeting.”
Mr Johnston added that he remained hopeful further discussions could take place with the council to hopefully change the policy, but confirmed that drivers were likely to hold go-slow demonstrations in the city.
The Government approved the council’s Clean Air Zone business case earlier this year, which will impose an £8 daily charge to high-polluting cars travelling inside the A4540 ring road – but not on it – from January 2020.
They also approved £15m worth of funding to support the black cab and private hire trade.
Measures include providing 50 ultra low emission Hackney Carriages for lease and £5,000 support packages for 1,000 black cab drivers which could be used to pay for a retrofit conversions.
Financial support will also be available for private hire drivers.
While licensing is not supposed to be political, fingers were pointed at the Labour-run council introducing the Clean Air Zone and equally the Conservative-led Government for demanding the authority drastically reduces air pollution.
It was also pointed out that only Labour councillors left the meeting as it was suspended.
Chris Neville, the council’s head of licensing, said: “The Clean Air Zone is the solution the city has adopted to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling that we have to achieve European air quality standards in the shortest possible time.
“In theory there are different ways of doing it, however the technical advice and scientific advice in Birmingham is such that there is no other way of achieving it without a Clean Air Zone, so effectively we are faced with no choice.”
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