Changes to car tax and a diesel car scrappage scheme, are among a number of policies sought by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) in its response to Defra’s draft air quality plan consultation.
Published on Friday (November 20) ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and Spending Review announcements this week, the EAC response urges changes to Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) to tackle nitrogen dioxide as well as carbon dioxide emissions by encouraging a move away from diesel vehicles.
It said the Chancellor’s failure to do this in his July Budget, which incentivised vehicles with lower CO2 emissions only, was “a missed opportunity to also incentivise vehicles which emit less NO2”.
In addition, the EAC suggests including a scrappage scheme to incentivise diesel drivers to retrofit their vehicles or trade in their car for a newer, less polluting car, while it also criticised Defra for attempting to “shift responsibility” for meeting air quality targets onto local councils.
Chair of the EAC, Huw Irranca-Davies MP, said: “The Chancellor has the chance to strike a better balance on this next week. The Treasury must use Vehicle Excise Duty to create long-term incentives for drivers to buy cleaner hybrid and electric cars that minimise both CO2 and harmful pollutants. Introducing a national diesel scrappage scheme could also provide a short-cut to cleaning up the air in our cities.”
The consultation on Defra’s draft air quality plan has now closed, having been launched in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that new plans must be submitted to the European Commission before the end of 2015 (see AirQualityNews.com story).
Responses to the draft plan published so far have in most cases also called for some form of diesel scrappage or similar scheme to disincentivise diesel car use , while NGO ClientEarth has threatened to take Defra back to the Supreme Court over the plan (see AirQualityNews.com story).
Local council cuts
Elsewhere in its response, the Committee also raised concerns about local councils’ ability to work towards meeting air quality targets amid considerable cuts to their budgets, with Defra’s draft plan placing a great deal of focus on local authority action to tackle emissions.
It states that the possibility of local councils paying any potential EU fines for the UK’s failure to meet air quality limits would be “unfair”, adding that the lack of funding for councils to enact measures set out in the draft plans could “undermine” the UK’s ability to meet the EU legal limits.
Mr Irranca-Davies MP said: “We are concerned that central government is trying to shift responsibility for meeting air quality targets to local authorities at a time when they are facing severe funding cuts. The government has a duty to ensure that local authorities have the financial means at their disposal to adequately implement air quality action plans.”
Clean Air Zones
The EAC also welcomed the government’s proposals for a national framework of Clean Air Zones to reduce urban traffic emissions, but lamented that the framework itself will not be presented for public consultation until 2016 after the air quality plans are to be submitted to the European Commission.
It also said that giving the power to local authorities to decide the access rules for particular vehicles in the Clean Air Zone framework could lead to “confusing signals” being sent to drivers.
Mr Irranca-Davies MP added: “We are very pleased that the government has finally accepted the EAC’s calls for a national framework of Clean Air Zones. Defra is right to say that local Authorities will have a better understanding of ‘the issues on the ground’. However, it will be important to avoid sending out conflicting signals to drivers across the country. The government needs to bear this in mind when devising the Clean Air Zones framework.”
Other EAC recommendations include a clearer demarcations between central and local government for air quality management responsibility, and that each policy in the draft plan should have a government department accountable to it as Defra’s work is very reliant on other departments.
It also highlights the need for a greater emphasis on raising public awareness by working with TV broadcasters and the Met Office, as well as by providing advice on air quality and health to schools and care homes.
Meanwhile, the deadline for evidence submissions as part of a separate MP inquiry into air pollution issues being held by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee has been extended to December 18 2015 (see AirQualityNews.com story).