Newcastle CAZ: Kenton Food bank fined 32 times for driving van in clean air zone

Staff at Kenton Food Bank had thought they would have fines for entering Newcastle's Clean Air Zone but they have not been granted an exemption. Credit: NCJ Media

A food bank has received more than 30 fines for taking its collection van into a city centre Clean Air Zone (CAZ) after being denied an exemption from the toll.

Staff at Kenton Food Bank, in Newcastle, had believed they would be entitled to have the fines waived as they thought they were eligible for the exemption.

The centre's 64-plate Mercedes diesel van falls foul of the environmental regulations of the CAZ, which drivers of some high-polluting vehicles must pay to enter.

Manager Loree Moran-Wilson claims she had been told by Newcastle City Council that the food bank would be eligible for an exemption granted to community transport vehicles. Believing they would be waived, the food bank has received 32 fines while making food collections.

The council has said it will waive the £120 late payment fines - which would have added up to about £4,000 - but the charity will still have to pay the £12.50 van toll as it does not hold a community transport permit for the vehicle.

All vans were exempt when the zone first launched in January before it was expanded this summer to cover non-compliant vans and LGVs in addition to buses, coaches, lorries, and taxis. All private cars remain exempt.

Ms Moran-Wilson said she will now have to rely on asking other people to collect weekly donations from the Magic Hat Cafe, in Newcastle city centre, for them – with the centre unable to afford upgrading their van to a cleaner model.

She said: “The food we get from Magic Hat is really, really good stuff that we can give out to people. For the time being, we are having to rely on other people going to collect it for us.

“But the trouble is that you can’t fit everything they have for us in a car. 

“We could look in the future to get an electric van, but I don’t know if we would have the kind of funds to do that. For just doing one trip a week, I don’t know if it would be worth it.”

Loree Moran-Wilson said she did not know if the food bank would be able to upgrade to a greener vehicle. Credit: NCJ Media

She added: “Even if they could give us permission to come into the CAZ once a week that would be fine. We aren’t trying to take the mick here.

“At the moment, it is going to create more hard work for us trying to find people who can do collections for us.

“I get up in the morning, put my jumper on and get in the van wanting to collect to give to people in need – and now I am getting fined for it. It just makes you question why this is happening.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Lovatt volunteered himself to collect the donations from the cafe in Higham Place last week but warned that he was “extremely concerned” that non-profit organisations would suffer if not given help to avoid the CAZ tolls.

He said: “I am appealing to both Newcastle and Gateshead councils to rethink the CAZ legal order to support those charities which now have to pay to enter the CAZ. These charities have fallen through the cracks and should have been considered for exemptions when the legal order was approved.

“This is clearly a failure of political leadership, cabinet members were asked by a number of people to make sure that all charities were included, and yet these voices appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Many people rely on food banks and residents would be shocked to think that a vehicle from a food bank had not been exempted from charges – action is needed now.”

A spokesperson for Newcastle and Gateshead Clean Air Zone said that giving exemptions from the CAZ tolls “had to be balanced against the need to reduce pollution levels”.

They added: “The Clean Air Zone is in place to reduce traffic-related air pollution by encouraging those with older, more polluting vehicles to upgrade or replace them with newer models that have lower emissions. Support measures, including exemptions for some vehicles, are in place to help businesses and organisations affected.

“Decisions regarding vehicle exemptions had to be approved by Government and had to be balanced against the need to reduce pollution levels sufficiently to ensure compliance with legal requirements. As a result not all vehicles, including some belonging to charitable and voluntary organisations, will qualify for an exemption.

Charges apply for more polluting vans and light goods vehicles travelling in the Clean Air Zone (CAZ). Credit: Newcastle City Council

“In this particular case, while the vehicle would not qualify for an exemption, we have contacted the owner to make them aware that they could apply for funding of up to £4,500 towards the cost of a newer vehicle that meets emissions requirements. As a gesture of goodwill we have also agreed to waive the additional PCN charges following payment of the original CAZ fees.”

Under the city centre CAZ, certain older and higher polluting vehicles must pay daily tolls of either £12.50 or £50 to come into the city centre.

The CAZ has been introduced in response to a Government order for local councils to reduce illegal levels of air pollution, which have been linked to more than 300 premature deaths on Tyneside every year.

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