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, according to the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF).

The BMF is calling on Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond MP, to provide help to merchants ahead of his Budget Statement on 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 these areas.

In its Budget representations, the BMF emphasised that members perform a vital function as the 'last-mile' link in delivering to construction sites. Many 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 UK government has failed to bring down air pollution to within legal limits - and has lost High Court and Supreme Court cases on the issue. Diesel exhaust emissions are the main cause of these emissions, but those from home heating and our sources are also involved. The government's preferred solution is a network of Clean Air Zones covering large urban English local authorities.

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, however, that insufficient time exists to make necessary operational changes and that it will cause SMEs to 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 vehicles such as HGVs & LGVs.