GLA ‘filters out’ industry views

Plant hire firms feel proposed legislation covering particulate emissions ignores the fact that they are unprepared to implement them. Dean Stiles reports on the stand-off.

Construction industry groups are at loggerheads with the Greater London Authority (GLA) over its plans to compel contractors to use particulate filters on specified diesel plant in certain parts of London.

The Construction Plant Hire Association (CPA) claims that the industry is not ready to implement the measure. “As far as we can see, it’s going to take an awful lot of time to sort out the problems. The Greater London Authority believe we are nearly there: we believe we are nowhere near,” says John Varcoe, senior manager at the CPA.

The GLA is set on improving London’s air quality and is targeting dust and emissions from diesel-powered plant, which even with the latest engines produce three to four times more particulate emissions as new road-going vehicles.

To implement the measures, the GLA has produced best practice guidance. This details ways to control dust and emissions from construction and demolition used on designated environmentally high-risk construction sites, including the Thames Gateway Bridge and the Olympic Games’ facilities and its infrastructure.

The aim is to protect the health of on-site workers and the public, and to provide London-wide consistency for developers and any parties involved in the construction process.

One specific recommendation is to lower exhaust emissions from off-road construction vehicles and plant used on these sites.

The guidance states that ultra-low sulphur diesel (ULSD) or equivalent fuel should be used whenever possible, and that all plant should comply with either the current or immediately previous EU directive staged emission standards. In addition, plant more than 37kW should be fitted with suitable exhaust after-treatment to reduce particulate emissions by 85%.

The systems are specified on an approved list managed by the Energy Saving Trust (EST), the body that administers the scheme for the GLA. This is similar to emission schemes like one operating in New York, which includes plant with more than 50 horse power, and Switzerland, which includes all plant such as compressors and generators more than 19kW – the original limit was 37kW.

Warranty issues

The plant hire industry has been lobbying for selected plant and equipment of more than 37kW to be exempt. No agreement was reached at the last Technical Advisory Group (TAPG) meeting on September 25.

The meeting included representatives from the CPA, Construction Equipment Association, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, diesel particulate filter suppliers and a fuel supply company. The Energy Savings Trust chairs this group that advises the BPG Implementation Group but only on technical matters involving fitting diesel particulate filters on construction machinery.

Suppliers of diesel particulate filters are invited to the TAG meetings in order to bring their many years’ experience in the supply and fitment of DPFs, says Colin Smith, EST assistant accreditation manager, transport, who chaired the meeting.

“It gives the CPA, and more importantly, their members, a chance to understand the issues and the solutions to problems. Why not use the experiences gained in places such as Switzerland so plant owners in the UK do not re-invent the wheel in terms of fitting DPFs to plant?” he says.

The CPA rejected the list of equipment for priority fitment of filters proposed by Smith, on the basis that it included machinery that it believed would be excluded, such as backhoe loaders.

“From our point of view, the way the Greater London Authority has gone about the whole issue has been wrong right from the start,” says Varcoe. “Over the last three years we have got absolutely nowhere with this,” he says.

The CPA has made various proposals for technology other than diesel particulate filters to reduce plant exhaust emissions, but none has met the GLA requirement for removal of 85% of particulate emissions.

“A host of issues are still unresolved,” says Varcoe, including warranty issues from engine manufacturers and filter makers, as well as health and safety issues.

The association says its members are bearing the cost of modifying equipment and has expressed concern that engine manufacturers and diesel particulate filter makers are limiting the warranties on new plant. Health and safety is also an issue with the association wanting confirmation that machines fitted with filters will conform to relevant regulations.

Planning process

Smith is not persuaded by these arguments, and says: “The EST is running the certification and registration of the kit. It’s more or less what we are doing in London for the London Emission Zone [Lez] and in general the same companies are supplying both.

“As part of the accreditation process of companies or systems, we will ask companies to give one- or two-year warranties. The diesel particulate filter makers will assess the kit individually, and it will meet all the regulations for use, as well as health and safety regulations; and the owners will sign off on this,” says Smith.

Attempts to delay or limit the scale of the measures are unlikely to succeed.

Unlike the Lez, which regulates emissions from road-going vehicles, and which comes into force in February 2008, there is no implementation date or legislation concerning off-road vehicles.

Instead, the guidance will be used as part of the planning process within London boroughs, and planning consent will only be given conditional on compliance with the guide.

This means that developers or contractors on the designated sites in London will have to meet these standards regardless of whether or not the TAG resolves its differences because the guide includes all plant more than 37kW.

Building work in the capital is a continuous process, and London councils and the GLA have produced this guidance so that the environment is protected during construction. It is their intention that this start now, not at some unspecified date in the future.

The CPA believes that it is highly unlikely that the GLA will amend its ideas, but implementation of this measure “makes a mockery of the term consultation”.

Says Varcoe: “I have been involved in these sorts of consultation with the CPA for the last 20 years. I’ve never experienced such a consultation as this where we’ve not been listened to. It’s absolutely extraordinary.”

Varcoe adds: “We really are at a stand-off now. I am not sure which way it’s going to go, and as far as we are concerned, we have to sort out the eligible plant list.

“There are grey areas concerning terminology, so we are not sure what machines are included,” says Varcoe.

As far as the association is concerned, the matter is on hold until the next meeting scheduled for January 15.

“There are lots of engineering problems and Greater London seems to rise above all this and say, ‘this is what we want’ and doesn’t get involved in the nitty-gritty.

It has now left it to the Energy Saving Trust to sort out the eligible equipment list.

The Energy Saving Trust, you can argue, is not sufficiently experienced with construction equipment to handle all the problems and see the advantages and disadvantages; or even see what we mean by certain things,” Varcoe says.

“We are very frustrated; there is no question about that,” he adds.

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