Clean air charging and funding proposals in spotlight

Responses to the government’s consultation on its national plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide emissions in towns and cities have continued to emerge, following the deadline for submissions last week.

Those responding include the motor industry, local authorities, health professionals and environmentalists.

A mix of views has been offered on the potential for charging schemes in Clean Air Zones to discourage vehicle use – which could be similar in practice to London’s congestion charge. Government has said it views the option as a ‘last resort’

Among the issues to feature prominently in responses is the potential for local authorities to charge for some motorists travelling in Clean Air Zones.

Feedback from the consultation is now being considered by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Transport (DfT), ahead of the court-ordered deadline for the final version of the plan to be published by the end of July.

The draft Air Quality Plan was published for consultation on 5 May, after the government had failed in its bid to delay publication of the proposals until after the General Election (see airqualitynews.com story).

The consultation, which ran until last Thursday (15 June) asked for views on a range of proposals, including a number aimed at potentially reducing the impact of diesel vehicles on air quality. The plan also proposed a network of Clean Air Zones, in towns and cities.

Health

Responding to the consultation, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, which represents the UK’s major health organisations described itself as ‘very dissatisfied’ with the proposals.

The Alliance said that it welcomed the proposal to implement more Clean Air Zones ‘as part of a broader effort to improve air quality’, but expressed concerns that the plan does not place more emphasis on charging for travel to reduce vehicle movements.

The consultation describes charging zones as a ‘final option’, to be considered only if local authorities “fail to identify equally effective alternatives”. This is despite the government’s technical report on the proposals noting that charging for entry into Clean Air Zones is the ‘most effective intervention’ for reducing nitrogen dioxide levels.

In its response, the Alliance noted: “This will inevitably mean that the most effective intervention available to Clean Air Zones, will be the last option considered, and would only be implemented following a resource intensive local authority option appraisal. We believe that these recommendations will discourage local authorities from even submitting requests for Clean Air Zones with a charging zone, to the government.”

Motor industry

Despite being backed by health professionals, the motor industry has offered resistance to the potential imposition of direct charges on motorists for driving within Clean Air Zones.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT), said his organisation is keen to see that councils avoid introducing a clean air charge.

He said: “SMMT welcomes the publication of government’s proposals for improving air quality across the UK, which clearly states that the new Euro 6 diesels which have been on sale for the past two years will not face any penalty charges anywhere in the UK. 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.

“Industry is committed to improving air quality across our towns and cities and has spent billions developing new low emission cars, vans, trucks and buses and getting these new cleaner vehicles onto our roads quickly is part of the solution.” – Mike Hawes, SMMT

“Industry is committed to improving air quality across our towns and cities and has spent billions developing new low emission cars, vans, trucks and buses and getting these new cleaner vehicles onto our roads quickly is part of the solution.”

SMMT has also stated its opposition to a diesel scrappage scheme and has said it is ‘encouraged’ by plans to improve traffic flow and congestion and increase uptake of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Representing the car sales industry, the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) has called for the government to ensure that the proposals do not focus ‘solely on diesel’ and has called for a ‘wider approach’ to reducing transport emissions.

The motor retail industry has called for continued support for investment in infrastructure for electric vehicle charging

The organisation has also called for continued investment in low emission vehicle infrastructure, such as charging points for electric vehicles.

NFDA director Sue Robinson, said: “The automotive industry is working consistently to reduce nitrogen dioxide emitted from cars and we must continue to work hard to ensure that the public understands that modern Euro 6 diesels are cleaner and emit much lower NOx emissions than older diesel models.

“To further support local communities in cutting air pollution, investment in electric vehicles infrastructure is paramount. The recent NFDA research carried out by YouGov highlighted that the biggest barrier preventing motorists from purchasing an electric vehicle surrounded charging, before, during and at the end of a journey. It is also essential that electric vehicle grants are significantly extended past 2018.”

Road safety

Last week it emerged that some critics of the government’s proposals – including the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) – had expressed concerns that the plans ‘shift the burden’ for tackling air pollution from central government to local authorities (see airqualitynews.com story).

This was a theme repeated by the road safety charity Brake which claimed that action is needed at a national level “with a consistent, evidence-based policy”.

In its response, Brake said: “The draft Air Quality Plan lacks detail and devolves responsibility for reducing air pollution to local authorities. The proposal that ‘It will be the responsibility of local authorities to develop innovative proposals for their local area that will bring pollution levels within the legal limits within the shortest time possible’ is weak and insufficient, and does not adequately address the fact that most traffic pollution comes from vehicles travelling on major routes, in big urban conurbations.”

“The draft Air Quality Plan lacks detail and devolves responsibility for reducing air pollution to local authorities.” – Brake

Funding

The issue of funding for local authorities to implement clean air proposals has also been highlighted, with Oxford city council calling for additional financial support for measures to tackle air pollution. The council has also questioned modelling which suggests that it is on course to meet air pollution objective by the end of the decade.

Responding to the consultation, Councillor John Tanner, the city council’s executive board member for a clean and green Oxford, said: “We are deeply concerned that Oxford is unlikely to get government funding to tackle air pollution because these draft proposals find that, without taking any further action, the city will have no problem by 2020. We think this is incorrect.

“We are anxious to work with the government to tackle this public health emergency. Everyone has their part to play in reducing air pollution, which is why we have written to the Government today requesting more powers to help incentivise people out of high-emission vehicles.”

Related Links

UK Health Alliance on Climate Change
SMMT
NFDA
Brake
Oxford city council