Respondents to ministers’ first attempt at a new plan to tackle toxic air pollution from road vehicles felt that central government should take ownership of the problem, rather than leaving local authorities to deal with it.
The draft air quality plan, published before the General Election was widely criticised at the time for putting too much emphasis on local authorities to decide what action to take.
Environment department Defra has now published a summary of comments on the draft plan, as it prepares to publish it final plan, which is expected on Wednesday.
It said the Government and devolved administrations ‘have considered the consultation responses received, and have taken account of them in finalising the UK Plan’.
Respondents to the consultation felt that action to tackle nitrogen dioxide, mainly from diesel vehicles, should be delivered with 'more ambition and a greater level of urgency'.
According to the summary, many respondents ‘felt the measures proposed in the draft plan would not address the problem of nitrogen dioxide as quickly as possible’. Respondents said central government should take a greater degree of leadership, and local authorities should receive increased levels of support in order to be able to effectively tackle nitrogen dioxide emissions.
Reports on Wednesday said the Government will give councils an extra £255m to support local plans.
The summary said a key theme was that ‘central government needed to take overall ownership, providing a national framework and leadership for actions to be taken by local authorities'.
Respondents said local authorities should not be left to themselves to deal with the problem – ‘while they should be given the role of taking actions that suit local circumstances, they needed to be supported and funded to do so, and government should make sure that local plans are strong enough to deliver the improvement needed’.
According to the summary: ‘There was support for the most polluting vehicles being charged as necessary to reduce pollution; at the same time, there was some concern expressed that drivers could face charges, feeling that they would be penalised for buying a diesel vehicle when they had been encouraged by previous governments to do so.’
Respondents felt that action should be prioritised to tackle emissions from the most polluting vehicles. A scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles and a retrofitting scheme prioritising buses, HGVs, taxis and private hire vehicles, coaches, and light goods vehicles were cited as ways to do this.
Defra said 743 consultation responses were received, including 21 from Wales, 17 from Scotland, and 13 from Northern Ireland.
It added that over 11,000 ‘largely duplicated campaign responses were received’, organised through the Get Healthy Air campaign run by campaign group ClientEarth, which has repeatedly taken ministers to court on the issue.