If the government goes ahead with the introduction of Clean Air Zones, ministers must bring forward steps to support merchants to replace old vehicles with viable and clean equivalents.

That is the message from the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond MP, ahead of his Budget Statement later today (8 March).

Central and local government are implementing Clean Air Zones to improve air quality and tackle pollution from diesel vehicles. Several local authorities aim to restrict access to their city based on the type of fuel or vehicle - and businesses face new penalty charges to enter.

In its Budget representations, the BMF emphasised that members perform a vital function as the ‘last-mile’ link in delivering to construction sites. Merchants have no choice but to use diesel vehicles to deliver heavy materials that use lifting gear to load and unload them. Unlike buses, taxis or coaches, HGVs used by merchants do not make frequent stops, on demand, for passengers.

John Newcomb, BMF managing director, said: “We support the government’s ambitions to improve air quality. However, the Chancellor must use his Budget to demonstrate a willingness to work with merchants to ensure that the Clean Air Zones do not restrict the delivery of materials to construction sites.”

The first cities to implement zones are Leeds, Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham and Southampton. London already has an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone. The BMF is concerned that insufficient time exists to make necessary operational changes and SMEs face disproportionate costs.

Conservative MPs, the London Mayor and others are lobbying the Chancellor to announce a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme, primarily for private cars. The BMF argues the rise in commercial journeys means action should be taken first to alleviate harmful emissions from HGVs and LGVs.