UK Air Quality Plan

On the 5th May the Government published a Revised Air Quality Plan to tackle NOX emissions, in response to breaches of EU legal limits. London Mayor Sadiq Khan promptly slammed it in the Evening Standard as being “woefully inadequate”. He argued it was a public health emergency and criticised the Government for being unwilling to take bold action. He is of course moving aggressively forward himself with the ULEZ plans.

What does the Government’s document actually say? It correctly argues that air pollution can come from a range of different sources, not just transport. However as regards NOX it does exceed legal limits on some roads and diesel vehicles are one of the main causes. It points out that although emissions have been falling, driven by Euro Standards for new vehicles, these measures were side-stepped by the fact that “real world” emissions did not match the test figures. In some cases, e.g. Volkswagen, they were deliberately manipulated to give erroneous data for diesel emissions. This is why there is still a major problem with diesel vehicles and high air pollution.

As it says: “None of this is the fault of those who chose to buy diesel vehicles and as we tackle this problem, these same people should not be penalised for decisions they made in good faith”. Mr Khan is ignoring that though.

The Government is committed to provide incentives and the adoption of policies that will clean up the vehicle fleet. It also argues that as air pollution is often a localized problem one approach should be the introduction of Clean Air Zones that could introduce control of the worst polluting vehicles (in essence HGVs and buses). They also want to encourage the take up of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (e.g. electric ones).

One measure they suggest would help in addition to generally improving and smoothing traffic flows, might be the removal of road humps. Now that would be a great step forward so far as this writer is concerned – I have repeatedly campaigned against them for the last twenty years. They have no real road safety benefits if you take into account traffic diversion while they have a number of disbenefits – increased air pollution is one well known aspect.

The Government argues that Clean Air Zones should only include charging arrangements where there is no other alternative – again Mr Khan is not taking much notice of this.

The Government mentions the possibility of a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme but suggests that it would need to be closely targeted, limited in scope, provide value for money and minimise the risk of fraud. Author’s comments: Somehow I don’t think my 4 year old diesel Jaguar XF is going to be covered under any such scheme. And I won’t be able to claim dire poverty or some other excuse for a Government subsidy. So I might have a very hefty bill to replace it well before I otherwise would due to the ULEZ impact.

Motor manufacturers welcomed the Government’s proposals – perhaps because they see the opportunity to sell more vehicles to those being forced to replace them. Others were more critical and an RAC spokesperson said it possibly gave the green light to enable lots of local authorities to introduce charging schemes.

In summary, it seems diesel vehicles will be discouraged by higher taxation and discouraged in other ways also. The day of the all electric vehicle is surely coming closer, while even petrol car sales may start to decline.

Roger Lawson

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