A heavily-delayed Clean Air Zone (CAZ) could finally come into force in Newcastle city centre later this year - but with tolls for high-polluting vehicles put on hold until 2023.
Tyneside council bosses have revealed a new proposal that would see the controversial CAZ begin this November with drivers of non-compliant vehicles issued with warning letters only, before financial penalties are then imposed gradually next year.
The system, designed to bring down illegal levels of roadside air pollution, had first been due to start in January 2021 and was then pushed back to July of this year before being delayed yet again.
Under it, lorries, buses and coaches that do not comply with emissions standards will have to pay £50 per day to drive into the city centre, while non-compliant vans and taxis will be charged £12.50 per day. All private cars will be exempt.
It has been feared that imposing the tolls now would have a devastating impact on poorer residents and small businesses already battling a cost of living crisis.
Latest plans announced on Friday by Newcastle and Gateshead councils would bring the CAZ into operation in November, once long-awaited grants have been made available for people to upgrade to newer, cleaner vehicles that would dodge the charges.
The penalties for drivers of high-polluting taxis, buses and HGVs would then begin from January 30, 2023, and for vans from July 2023 - a further delay due to a national LGV shortage making it tougher and more expensive to upgrade.
The proposals, due to come before both councils' cabinets later this month, are still subject to approval from the government, however.
Coun Jane Byrne, Newcastle City Council's cabinet member responsible for transport and pollution, said: "Improving air quality is a big priority as this has such a significant impact on everyone's health.
"We have a legal order from government which means we have to introduce the Clean Air Zone in order to achieve this improvement, but we also need to recognise the potential impact this could have on local businesses and ensure they have support.
"By introducing charging on a phased basis we would be able to give businesses more opportunity to prepare while still achieving air quality compliance in 2023."
There is still no confirmation of exactly when grant money for vehicle upgrades, totalling almost £20m, will be made available.
The councils said that any drivers hit with tolls while awaiting funding "may be entitled to a temporary exemption", while vehicles such as rail replacement buses and taxis and vans belonging to people living within the CAZ area are also set to be made exempt.
The CAZ will cover most of Newcastle city centre, including the Tyne, Swing, High Level and Redheugh bridges.