Mayoral plans to improve air quality in central London have been slammed for placing unfair financial burdens on businesses operating within the proposed Low Emissions Zone (LEZ).

With operation beginning as early as 4 February next year vehicles that do not meet tougher low emission levels will face charges up to £200 for HGVs, and £100 for vans, to drive in the LEZ per day.

Introduced by Mayor Ken Livingstone, the LEZ will exclude cars, motorcycles and small vans, but include the majority of diesel-engined vans weighing in excess of 1200kg.

The LEZ will also punish non-conforming minibuses and even hearses for failing to measure up to the equivalent of Euro3 emission standard for LCVs.

Operators are being urged to retrofit particulate filters or even cleaner more efficient engines in a bid to comply, but the costs have been described as probative and many vehicles overnight will be rendered worthless.

Head of the Forum of Private Business (FPB), Philip Moody, has called for more support to help meet the cost of making vehicles compliant.

“For some companies using HGV, this will mean a cost of around £5000 to upgrade their vehicles. That is quite a cost – and even more spread over a fleet.”

According to the FPB smaller businesses are expected to suffer swallowing the costs.

Only vans registered before January 1 2002 fail the LEZ emissions test and are liable for the new charges.