Banning the sale of new diesel and petrol cars could stifle innovation in pollution abatement technology, the professional body representing air quality practitioners has warned.
The Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM) made the comment in response to the release of the governments plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide, which was published on Wednesday.
The plan includes a commitment from government to end the sale of petrol and diesel-only cars by 2040.
However, IAQM has argued that an outright ban on both petrol and diesel cars and vans may not be the best policy tool for achieving better air quality.
Dr Claire Holman, chair of the IAQM, reasoned that a future ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles could act as an artificial constraint on research into pollution abatement technology.
She said: Twenty five years ago petrol cars were the main culprit; today it is diesel vehicles causing poor air quality. Over that period engine and pollution abatement technology has changed beyond recognition and in another 20-plus years there could have been even greater advances.
The announcement will stop research and development investment in these technologies over the coming years. The current alternatives, such as electric vehicles, can offer real benefits in urban areas in the short term but they are not necessarily the long term solution. The research and development community should not be given artificial constraints such as this ban.
Other responses have focused on the central role the plan hands to local authorities, which identifies a number of council where NO2 concentration breaches have been measured, and who have been given until December 2018 to draw up their own plans to tackle emissions locally.
The government is offering a total of 255 million in funding to councils to implement measures to tackle pollution.
The Chartered Institute of Environment Health (CIEH), which represents local authority environmental health professionals claims that this will unfairly shift the burden onto local authorities to solve the problem.
Tony Lewis, head of policy at CIEH, said: Once again local authorities are being asked to play a significant role in improving air quality. But this unfairly shifts the burden from central Government, 250m to sort out the problem is a drop in the ocean and local authorities are only being given eight months to submit their plans, which is simply not enough time.
Local authorities are where the expertise lie to tackle air pollution. Whilst relying on councils to take the lead could possibly lead to positive results at the local level, there is the risk that this will result in significant regional inconsistencies when considered on the national stage.
Similarly, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) which represents senior local authority officials has claimed that some of the details of the plan are unclear.
ADEPTs president, Simon Neilson, welcomed the national leadership from government on improving air quality, but added that measures such as charging to travel in low emission zones could be difficult for local authorities to implement.
He said: We agree that local authorities are often best placed to take local action, as they know their areas, but it would be more helpful to have a set of nationally agreed options to support councils with technical expertise, time and resource. The Clean Air Fund will be a competitive process, pitching councils against each other while again spending more time and scarce resource preparing uncertain bids.
Charging is one of the most effective and speediest measure open to local authorities but we think the government should have shown strong, national commitment to implementation, rather than leaving it to local authorities to introduce such politically unpalatable measures.
Much of the additional funding included in the plan has been announced before and while we await with interest the details of the 225m Implementation Fund, we need far more clarity on the legal duties and responsibilities to be placed on already hard pressed local authorities.