Councils not supported on environmental measures, MPs say


Transport authorities have had problems developing sustainable projects because the Government places more importance on economic benefits than improving air quality, according to MPs.

In a new report, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee said the Department for Transport (DfT) needs a clear strategy to increase the use of ultra-low emission vehicles and reduce air pollution so that it can meet decarbonisation and air quality targets.

Committee chair Mary Creagh

Committee chair Mary Creagh said: ‘The Government’s belated plan to tackle air quality means polluted towns and cities will hit 2010 air quality targets 10 years late, in 2020. Transport authorities throughout England told us they have had problems with getting sustainable transport projects off the ground, because the DfT places more importance on economic benefits rather than the health benefits of improving air quality.’

Last year ministers scrapped of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which had proved popular with councils and provided £560m of government cash between 2011-2015. It then confirmed that an ‘access fund’ of £500m capital funding would be rolled into the Local Growth Fund, an un-ringfenced pot allocated to Local Enterprise Partnerships.

On Wednesday, two leading academics also argued that transport planners had prioritised road safety and economic growth at the expense environmental issues.

Ms Creagh warned that the vote to leave the EU provided ‘a material risk’ to air quality targets.

She said: ‘At the very least, the Government should commit to keeping existing European air quality standards. We also want the department to work with the Treasury, Health and local government departments to ensure the benefits of clean air are properly costed in transport investment decisions.’

MPs pointed out that Government projections show that it will miss the target for ultra-low emission vehicles to make up 9% of new car and van sales by 2020, which the Committee on Climate Change has said is necessary to meet climate change targets in the most cost-effective way.

Ms Creagh said: ‘Local authorities had a range of innovative ideas to drive take-up, such as supporting electric and low emission fleet procurement by underwriting risk or guaranteeing buy-back; helping workplaces invest in charging points; and introducing a national grant scheme for electric and low emission taxis. Ministers should also think about changes to vehicle taxation, including company cars, to make electric vehicles more attractive.’

MPs also said the DfT should do more to assess the overall environmental impact of all its transport projects. The National Audit Office told the committee the Government assesses an individual project’s likely effect on the environment, but not the combined effect of all its projects, and whether these individual assessments add up overall to unacceptable environmental harm.

Bridget Fox, sustainable transport campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport said: 'The report shows that the Government is not doing enough to decarbonise transport and avoid building damaging infrastructure projects. Stronger action to clean up polluting vehicles is welcome but ultimately the answer lies in reducing car dependency, getting more freight onto rail and investing in good quality public transport alternatives.' 

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