Major cities across the country have been told to consider introducing Clean Air Zones - which restrict access for polluting vehicles, particularly diesels - as the government looks to get toxic emission levels under control.
The Government has pledged to create a full framework for Clean Air Zones by early 2016 to provide ‘a nationally consistent approach, where polluting vehicles have restricted access, to help local authorities tackle transport emissions levels’.
Ministers also called on councils to consider creating networks of electric car charging points, new road layouts to tackle congestion, low emission buses and taxi fleets, upgrades to cycling infrastructure and further park and ride schemes.
The most significant challenge is found in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton, which are projected to still exceed the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limit values in 2020. Ministers have told these cities to ‘consider the role of access restrictions for certain types of vehicles’.
However ministers stopped short of enforcing these measures on councils, stating: ‘In keeping with the localism agenda, the principal responsibility for implementing geographically targeted measures will rest with relevant local authorities. The Government will consider the appropriate incentives required to help secure the delivery of the measures and the associated air quality improvements.’
The news comes as the country is facing hundreds of millions of pounds in fines for breaching pollution levels, after the European Commission started formal infraction proceedings against the UK for its NO2 values.
In 2013, 38 out of the 43 UK geographical air quality zones were found to have exceeded the maximum NO2 levels together with one zone exceeding the hourly limit. However new projections suggest 35 out of the 43 UK zones are expected to be compliant with legal limits for NO2 by 2020, according to government officials.
Following a Supreme Court ruling against the government it has now published a local plan for each of the 38 zones along with a consultation on the overall strategy to tackling air quality.
In the West Midlands the areas comprising Walsall MBC, Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull and Wolverhampton look set to trail a low emissions zone this year. While London is already planning to introduce the UK’s first ultra low emissions zone from 2020 and expand its electric and hybrid buses fleet.
However Green Party grandee, Jenny Jones, said of a consultation short on any new ideas or actions: ‘The Government has again passed the buck on air pollution, leaving City Hall and councils to tackle the problem without a scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles or a clear rejection of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. These irresponsible and inadequate proposals will leave thousands of Londoners dying prematurely and breathing illegal air for a decade.’
The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) has recently estimated that the effects of NO2 on mortality are equivalent to 23,500 deaths in the UK annually in the UK.
On average, around 80% of NOx in areas where the UK is exceeding limits is due to transport.
The consultation will run until 6 November 2015.