Horticulture businesses using older diesel vehicles will need to either upgrade their fleet or pay up to £200 a day to enter most of Greater London from next month in a move aimed at reducing diesel-vehicle emission levels in the capital.
The immediate impact will be felt by most horticultural sectors including landscapers, garden centres, arborists and nurseries operating in or entering the Lower Emission Zone (LEZ). And businesses using older diesel vehicles to bring plants or equipment into London for shows such as Chelsea will also have to pay the £200 daily charge. But many businesses are still unaware that the new zone is being introduced.
London's air pollution is the worst of any city in the UK and among the worst in Europe. London mayor Ken Livingstone says reduced traffic pollution will improve the health and quality of life for Londoners and visitors, with a reduction in the number of premature deaths and hospital admissions predicted to drop - it was estimated in 2005 there were about 1,000 premature deaths due to poor air quality. He adds that the attitudinal survey conducted during the public consultation last year shows 75 per cent of Londoners support the LEZ.
One business affected by the new restrictions is Tendercare Nurseries, which expects to spend about £80,000 over the next two years converting their vehicle fleet into greener models.
Managing director Andrew Halksworth said the Middlesex nursery, which specialises in mature and specimen trees and shrubs, had been looking at green issues within the business over the past 18 months, including plastic recycling, waste management issues, energy and the heating of buildings.
Halksworth said the LEZ had pushed them towards exploring transport issues. Being in that zone means they will be affected financially for having high-emission vehicles so it made sense to explore other options. He said he had spent significant time examining the available options, including alternative fuels such as biofuels but they did not appear to be a long-term solution. This was mainly due to their only being suitable for Euro III-type diesel engines that will eventually be phased out under European regulations.
He plans to run two lorries with Euro III engines on biofuel until they need replacing, while the other two lorries have been converted - at a cost of £4,500 each - to run on a combination of diesel and 15 per cent LPG.
"The LPG makes it cleaner but it also enables more of the diesel to be burnt so the emissions are even cleaner. You're also getting a lot more miles to the gallon - 25 to 30 per cent more."
Committing to a greener future
While conversion is expensive at £4,500 a truck, Halksworth is adamant it is something the company - and the industry - should be prepared to pay for.But he believes for manufacturers to get to the "next level" of low emissions - Euro VI - new technology will be needed because they have gone as far as possible with adding other products to the diesel to help it to burn cleaner.
It is not just in large delivery trucks that Halksworth is making a green commitment - the company's smaller vehicles, vans and cars are being converted to run on LPG as well, and an LPG supply has been installed on site.
"Conversion is about £2,000 a vehicle but we should recoup that over two to three years by the fuel savings. And if you factor in the [London] congestion charge, which it will be exempt from, it makes sense."
He points out the company's commitment is above what it actually needed to do but hopes to gain on that in terms of the "greenness" image, "which you can't put a value on", as well as less repair and maintenance.
But Halksworth has been frustrated by the amount of money he has had to commit without any long-term support from the Government. "You can't just walk in and buy LPG vehicles. You have to research which models can be converted, so it's not an easy route to take and in some ways I'm slightly nervous about some of the decisions I've made, but you've got to do it."
He added: "I feel a bit at risk because if Ken Livingstone is only after raising tax and not really about cleaning up London, what he could say is 'all you people with LPG vehicles, I'm not going to give you any tax breaks' and take away the tax benefit that is there.
"The German government has committed itself to holding the tax duty on LPG for the next 11 years but in the UK there's no such commitment. The Germans can see that LPG is a good clean alternative, so they have backed it."
LEZ: THE FACTS
What is the Low Emission Zone?
It is a specified area in Greater London in which the most polluting diesel engines have to meet specific emission standards. Those that don't meet the requirements will have to pay a daily charge to enter the zone. The LEZ is aimed at deterring the most polluting vehicles from driving in the area to improve air quality. See map, left. All roads in the LEZ boundary are included except for the M25.
When is it being introduced?
Starting on 4 February, it initially applies to diesel vehicles over 12 tonnes but from July it will also apply to those diesel engine vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, as well as buses. From October 2010, large vans over 1.205 tonnes and mini buses will also be covered. It will be in effect 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
How to work out if your vehicle will meet the standard
Those vehicles first registered as new from 1 October 2001 are assumed to be Euro III-rated and meet the new LEZ emission standards. It is possible for vehicles that don't meet the standards to be modified to meet Euro III requirements. From January 2012, the required emission standards are raised to Euro IV-rated - vehicles first registered after 1 October 2006 are assumed to be Euro IV-compliant.
How do I pay?
If your vehicle (3.5 tonnes and over) does not meet the standard, you will have to pay £200 each day you enter the LEZ. You can pay with credit or debit card at Transport for London's website, by calling 0845 607 0009, or by post. Failure to pay the charge by midnight on the day you entered the zone will lead to a penalty charge of up to £1,000 per day.
For additional information, visit www.tfl.gov.uk/lezlondon.