Boss of Blyth coach firm Phoenix hits out at rules surrounding Clean Air Zone grants

Newcastle Clean Air Zone has been operational since the start of the year.Newcastle Clean Air Zone has been operational since the start of the year.
Newcastle Clean Air Zone has been operational since the start of the year.
The boss of a coach firm has hit out at “crazy” restrictions around the Newcastle Clean Air Zone (CAZ) which have prevented him from getting funding to upgrade his fleet.

Ken Turner, director of Blyth-based Phoenix Executive Coaches, has been trying to secure grants from Newcastle City Council to help buy cleaner vehicles that would replace five specialist minibuses the company uses to transport children with special needs to school.

The vehicles do not meet the emissions standards required by the CAZ, which has been in operation since January, and therefore are subject to a £50 toll if they are driven through the city centre.

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Grants of up to £16,000 are on offer to help affected companies and individuals make the switch to less polluting vehicles and avoid the daily charges.

Yet, despite being contracted by Newcastle City Council itself to provide home-to-school transport around the city, Mr Turner has been unable to receive any financial help.

The local authority says that businesses are only eligible for support if they can prove their vehicles must actually stop in the CAZ, rather than driving across it to get from one side of Newcastle to the other, as the Phoenix minibuses do.

But Mr Turner says the result has been that his high-emission vehicles are now having to put more miles on the clock as they take circuitous routes to stay out of the CAZ.

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The 49-year-old said: “We have had to send those vehicles around other parts of the city instead to make sure they don’t go through the CAZ, it is just moving pollution from the city centre to places like Byker and Walker. And we are putting more miles on our vehicles from having to drive around the CAZ, it is a crazy situation.

“I have heard stories from plenty of people that they are using other routes instead of the Tyne Bridge to get into Newcastle now. They are driving further and putting pollution into different areas.”

He added: “To me, it is just putting more pollution into the air – why should it make a difference if I am polluting the air of Gateshead or in the centre of Newcastle?”

Mr Turner said that even a full grant of £16,000 would not come close to the full cost of a newer accessible minibus, which can be up to £70,000, but would “go a long way”.

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But he has not even been able to complete a single grant application as the council’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) team have not provided the evidence he would require to back up his requests.

He complained that there are “so many barriers” for people trying to get CAZ grants.

Only 52 people have successfully secured a grant since the support scheme launched last November, out of almost 3,000 who have applied.

A spokesperson for Newcastle City Council said: “In order to qualify for a vehicle upgrade grant, businesses must meet certain eligibility criteria. This includes a requirement to provide evidence of regular business travel within the zone.

“In some cases, further information may be required, including where the evidence provided shows journeys through the zone but does not show a business reason to be within the zone.”