DEFRA Clear Air Zone confusion

A delayed response from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to the Motorcycle Action Group, claims that there are no Clean Air Zones, current or proposed, that charge motorcycles.  MAG has welcomed this news, but asks, ‘if so, when did London – which charges pre-Euro 3 bikes in the ULEZ – declare itself an independent nation?’

Clean Air Zone DEFRA

The Motorcycle Action Group wrote formally to Theresa Villiers MP, then Secretary of State, on 18th October 2019 requesting a meeting to discuss motorcycle emissions.  The request was made on the back of research carried out by MAG into the emissions data and modelling for motorcycles.  On the agenda were to be three items: exemption of all motorcycles from clean air zone charges, further efforts to source reliable, empirical emissions data, and development of modelling techniques for motorcycle emissions that accurately represent the behaviour – and thus emissions contribution – of motorcycles in congested traffic.

A response on 4th December 2019 declined the meeting request, due to the forthcoming General Election.  On 14th February 2020 MAG wrote again to DEFRA following the appointment of George Eustice as the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  The letter congratulated Mr Eustice on his appointment and respectfully repeated the request for a meeting.

On the 7th August 2020, MAG finally received a reply, again declining a meeting due to “diary pressures”.

MAG Chair, Selina Lavender, commented:

“Naturally, we are very disappointed with this continual refusal to meet to discuss a subject that may be trivial to ministers, but which is of great importance to motorcyclists.  We put great efforts into research and suggesting ways to help the Government to achieve its goals on the issue of air pollution.  To have ministers simply ignore and reject those offers to help is sadly a reflection on how the motorcycle is viewed within Government.”

The latest response letter did however state: “Defra is wedded to the NAEI/COPERT methodology and it is a continuous review and improvement strategy. Also, as mentioned in the previous reply, no Clear Air Zone currently does or plans to charge motorcycles.”

MAG’s Director of Campaigns & Political Engagement, Colin Brown, commented:

“There is clearly no will to recognise the positive role of motorcycles in reducing road traffic emissions, nor in properly modelling their contribution.  If there were an interest, wouldn’t the Government be actively seeking the development in the modelling methodology? Isn’t the narrative here supposed to be about solving the problem rather than ignoring it?

We are certain that current modelling over-estimates the motorcycle contribution to emissions, but we can draw some comfort from the fact that even with this over-estimation the contribution is so small as to be of little or no interest.  We welcome the fact that there are currently no proposals to include motorcycles in charges.  The puzzling thing is the suggestion that no current Clean Air Zone charges motorcycles.  Last time I checked, London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone does charge pre-2007 motorcycles, and there are plans to extend the size of the Zone next year.

The London ULEZ charge for motorcycles is entirely out of step with the Government’s position, yet they fail to challenge or even acknowledge this fact.  I understand that London is a special case in terms of devolved powers, but this lack of interest in consistent policy positions on such a matter is very troubling.  We will continue to campaign against the charge for older motorcycles in both the existing and extended London ULEZ.”

The Motorcycle Action Group has published detailed papers on the role of motorcycles as a Clean Air solution, and has published articles in its member magazine “The ROAD” explaining the problems with the COPERT/NAEI methodology to which DEFRA say they are “wedded”.  MAG has gained concessions on the ULEZ charging for motorcycles by negotiating with TfL a route for individual motorcycles to be tested, or secure manufacturer Certificates of Conformity, to enable individual exemption from the charge, but say that the current charging system remains unfair and unjustifiable in terms of achieving the stated goal of reducing NOx levels in the capital.