All the vehicles that could get up to £20,000 in upgrade grants to avoid Newcastle pollution tolls

By Daniel Holland

Drivers could get grants of up to £20,000 to upgrade their vehicles and avoid being hit with pollution tolls in Newcastle next year – but council chiefs need £23m of government cash to pay for them.

Transport bosses from either side of the River Tyne have revealed details of their plans to help motorists and companies switch to cleaner vehicles, ahead of the launch of a new Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in 2022.

Lorries, buses, and coaches that do not comply with emissions standards will face daily tolls of £50 to drive into Newcastle city centre from next July, while the highest polluting vans and taxis will be charged £12.50 per day.

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Private cars will be exempt from all tolls under the plans, which are designed to slash pollution and reduce the 300-plus deaths per year on Tyneside linked to poor air quality.

A new report from Newcastle and Gateshead councils has finally outlined plans for cash grants to help people upgrade to newer models, as well as suggesting a two-year delay to some charges.

The support package, due to be presented to both councils’ cabinets this month, would involve grants of:

  • Up to £3,700 for taxis and private hire vehicles;
  • Up to £4,000 for wheelchair accessible taxis and private hire vehicles;
  • Up to £20,000 for heavy goods vehicles;
  • Up to £4,500 for light goods vehicles; and
  • Up to £16,000 for buses.

It is expected that the grants would initially be offered for vehicles registered in Newcastle, Gateshead, and North Tyneside whose owners can demonstrate that they regularly pass through the city centre, before the offer is extended to the wider North East.

The final map of a proposed Clean Air Zone in Newcastle city centre. (Newcastle City Council)

However, that money is dependent on the government agreeing to fund the £23m scheme – and the Tyneside councils will remain under a legal order to cut pollution levels regardless of how much financial help ministers offer.

Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said that the councils’ request was “a fair and reasonable level of funding to help businesses on Tyneside avoid CAZ charges and reduce their impact on our air quality and the environment”.

It is also proposed to make the following vehicles exempt from all CAZ tolls for two years after its introduction:

  • Commercial vehicles, taxis and private hire vehicles that are subject to a finance agreement;
  • Commercial vehicles that are registered to a business address within the CAZ, up to a maximum of two vehicles per company;
  • Community transport vehicles; and
  • Wheelchair accessible taxis and private hire vehicles.

A one-year exemption would also be offered to vehicles awaiting retrofitting to improve their environmental credentials, while those with unique status or that are impossible to upgrade will not be subjected to any tolls. Those permanently exempt include:

  • Historic vehicles;
  • Military vehicles;
  • Vehicles that have been specially adapted, such as those modified under the Motability scheme, for use by disabled people;
  • Emergency services vehicles;
  • Agricultural and other specialist vehicles such as road rollers, gritters and snow ploughs;
  • Showmen’s vehicles;
  • Vintage buses;
  • Motor caravans.

The CAZ had been due to come into force this year, but was pushed back amid delays caused by a High Court battle and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Councils had planned to halve the number of lanes on the Tyne Bridge in order to discourage car traffic alongside the introduction of the CAZ, but that plan was axed this summer.

Coun Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council said: “It is a fact that those who are least responsible for creating pollution – older people, children and those with existing health problems – are more likely to suffer the harmful effects that pollution can cause.

“It’s a serious problem, but by upgrading to cleaner vehicles, with appropriate levels of financial support, or choosing to use alternatives to the car, we can all do our bit to help protect everyone, especially those that are the most vulnerable.

“These plans will also have a positive impact on our wider environment by achieving a reduction in carbon emissions from vehicles, which supports our vision for a Net Zero city.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been contacted for a comment.

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