Government air quality plans draw mixed reaction
Air quality plans published by the Government have come under fire for passing on responsibility for tackling air pollution to local authorities. We look at some of the comments from the fleet/motor industry and wider sectors.
The long-awaited air quality plans, published in response to a High Court ruling that put paid to the Government’s bid to delay their publication until after the General Election, put the focus on local authorities to come up themselves with measures to tackle nitrogen dioxide in towns and cities where action is needed, and are open for comments until 15 June – with a final plan due for publication by 31 July.
In response, environmental lawyers ClientEarth, which has had a lengthy court battle to get the plans published, branded them “weak and incoherent” and said they lack “the ambition and detail to tackle Britain’s illegal levels of air pollution”.
CEO James Thornton said: “The court ordered the government to take this public health issue seriously and while the government says that pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health, we will still be faced with illegal air quality for years to come under these proposals.
“There needs to be a national network of clean air zones which prevent the most polluting vehicles from entering the most illegally polluted streets in our towns and cities.
“We fail to see how the non-charging clean air zones, proposed by the government, will be effective if they don’t persuade motorists to stay out of those areas. The government seems to be passing the buck to local authorities rather than taking responsibility for this public health emergency.
“The government has also failed to commit to a diesel scrappage scheme and this is a crucial element of the range of measures needed to persuade motorists to move to cleaner vehicles. We will be analysing all the technical details in these documents.”
Independent environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd also criticised the plans, with chairman and founder Dominic Hogg saying: “The Government has repeatedly tried to avoid taking responsibility for what is effectively an invisible death sentence for many people. The grudging publication of its inadequate air quality plans now passes the buck to local authorities, without any meaningful new funding or the legal tools to take really effective action. The courts have previously indicated that a much more systematic approach is required, and this plan does not seem to offer one.”
BVRLA calls for more detail
However, Gerry Keaney, chief executive of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), said the organisation broadly welcomed the revised plan and looked forward to responding to the DEFRA consultation, but added that the “automotive industry urgently needs detail on the incentives that are available, not another period of consultation”.
On Clean Air Zones, Keaney added: “We’ve long called for a national framework that would require consistent Clean Air Zone (CAZ) emission standards, so it’s good to see this being published. Many of our members are already meeting the standard required by the Mayor of London for his zone which is set to be introduced in 2019. Rental and leasing companies will be able to offer cars that are 100% compliant with this or any other CAZ that uses the Euro 6 emissions standard. We now need to ensure that zones are consistent across the UK – not only having the same emissions standard requirement, but also in terms of their signage, enforcement and penalties for non-compliance.”
He continued: “The latest BVRLA statistics show that diesel cars continue to reduce as a proportion of the BVRLA leasing fleet, as use of ultra-low emission vehicles becomes more popular – particularly in urban areas. Diesel vehicles remain a vital part of the fleet mix though, as diesel engines are the most energy-efficient internal combustion engines. It is often the most appropriate powertrain for long distance journeys and non-urban freight transportation, and the latest Euro 6 diesel engines have made some major gains in reducing harmful NOx emissions.”
Focus on improving driving needed, says RAC
The RAC also welcomed many of the proposals, including encouraging local authorities to improve traffic flow, but chief engineer David Bizley commented: “It is deeply worrying that local authorities have an option of introducing chargeable Clean Air Zones which would affect owners of relatively new diesel and some petrol vehicles. This potentially could impact millions of motorists and while the Government has said it wants to discourage authorities from going down this route, the strategy does not give a clear steer on how and when local authorities should implement which type of clean air zone.
“The RAC is clear on this – we believe that efforts should squarely be focused on tackling those oldest vehicles that do the highest number of miles in affected areas, and that charges to owners of all but the newest diesel cars should be an absolute last resort.
“There is also no guidance yet published on what charges to motorists might be – which will undoubtedly make many motorists anxious of what may be in store.
“The Government has ruled out a large scale scrappage scheme on value for money grounds, but has indicated it is still open to a more targeted scheme – a move which we cautiously welcome.
“Finally, we believe that improving driving styles can have a much bigger role to play in reducing emissions than is suggested in the consultation. Telematics technology is available today to help drivers achieve change their driving style.”