Mixed reception for draft air quality proposals

Mixed reception for draft air quality proposals
From “broadly welcomed” to “totally toothless”, the government’s plans to tackle air pollution have been met with assorted responses since their announcement last week.

Released on Friday, the eagerly-awaited draft proposal focused on small, targeted schemes in areas with higher pollution, with the main headline being what wasn’t announced – plans for a much-publicised scrappage scheme.

Any initiative which would see all pre-Euro 6 rated diesel cars scrapped was considered “unfeasible” in the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ Draft Air Quality Plan – reportedly requiring around £60 billion to fund.

The RAC has said that it would “cautiously welcome” a smaller, targeted scrappage scheme – as remains under consideration – although no decision is expected until after the June 8 general election.

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What the motoring world did learn was of the government’s plans to offer powers to local authorities to charge drivers of the most polluting cars for entering inner-city areas.

The plans also highlighted that infrastructure initiatives to improve traffic flow would be key to reducing the level of offending stop/start traffic.

There were also ideas around retrofitting polluting vehicles to bring them in line with nitrogen dioxide emissions standards.

Earlier in the week, the government failed in its bid to have the deadline for submission of draft proposals postponed until after the general election, with the High Court ruling its release would not contravene “purdah” rules.

Of the plans, Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders welcomed the news that newer Euro 6 diesel models would not face pollution charges, and noted: “Furthermore, the government is keen that local authorities avoid charging consumers and businesses for driving their vehicles if other more effective policies can be found.”

On the subject of less-polluting modern diesels, British car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover released a statement saying: “We welcome the consultation recognising the fundamental difference between older vehicles which contribute to air pollution and clean, new diesels which are part of the air quality solution.”

Some of the more stinging reaction though came from the government’s political opponents, including London mayor Sadiq Khan who blasted the proposals as “toothless and woefully inadequate”.

He added: “The Government's proposals don't include a commitment for a new comprehensive Clean Air Act. And there's no commitment to changes to vehicle excise duty to encourage people to buy cleaner cars.

“This is a weak plan that lacks any sense of urgency. That means thousands of people will continue to die prematurely and unnecessarily, and many more children having to live with long-term health problems.”

Similarly angered was Green Party MP Caroline Lucas who tweeted: “No new funding for Clean Air Zones. No taxes on dirty vehicles. No fines on cheating car makers Plan devoid of real action on air quality.”

Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey also took to Twitter, calling the plan “a cop out”.

Meanwhile, law firm ClientEarth also warned the plans were much weaker than they had hoped for, claiming “we will still be faced with illegal air quality for years to come under these proposals”.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said the government has to move “faster and further.”

In setting out its plans, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said the Conservatives are opposed to Labour's approach of “hitting motorists in the pocket” by imposing charging zones and increasing parking charges.

“Improving air quality is a key priority as we support businesses in building a stronger and cleaner economy,” she said. “Our plan today sets out how we will do just that - including presenting options for targeted diesel scrappage schemes.”

Analysing the plans, Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said they put responsibility at the doors of town and city halls to come up with local action.

“The proposals rightly highlight the importance of cleaning up the largest, heaviest vehicles such as trucks and buses, and vehicles doing the highest mileages in the most polluted areas, such as cabs and vans,” he said.

But he warned: “The risk for the nearly 12 million owners of diesel cars is a mosaic of confusion with different rules applying in different places.

“Anyone holding out for a scrappage scheme looks set for a long wait. In the meantime, we need a redoubling of effort to increase the take up of ultra-green cars, sales of which are currently underwhelming.”

Copyright Press Association 2017. Motoring News articles do not reflect the RAC's views unless clearly stated.