The Coalition Government has rejected calls for a diesel vehicle tax to combat pollution but will consider implementing a national network of low emission zones, it has emerged.
It has also refused to bring in extra protection for school children through additional planning guidance.
With tens of thousands of deaths attributed to air pollution, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee last year raised the pressure on ministers to better protect members of the public through planning amendments and new levies.
However a swathe of recommendations including an explicit air quality remit for the new Strategic Highways Company, Highways England, and further National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) guidance to protect schoolchildren from pollution hotspots have now been dismissed by the Government.
Ministers said that there were currently no plans to subsidise diesel vehicle owners to retrofit their engines or launch a national diesel vehicle scrappage scheme, but added that measures would be investigated for inclusion in new national air quality plans at the end of 2015.
The Government outlined that it saw ‘effective ventilation’ of buildings and schools ‘a preferable strategy’ to reforming the NPPF to block construction of any new schools, care homes or health clinics near high pollution areas. Ministers said they did not consider ‘there is a need for additional planning guidance or Building Regulations given the current level of protection’.
In its response, the Coalition also said it did not support the idea of an independent public inquiry into air pollution and claimed it was already working with organisations to ‘ensure a consistent approach to air pollution’.
However the Government admitted it was now reviewing air quality plans and the deployment of low emission zones on an individual and national basis.
Environmental Audit Committee chair, Joan Walley, said Coalition ministers had ‘once again failed to face up to the problem’ of air pollution ‘and instead passed the buck on to the next Government’.
‘We have been warning that urgent action is needed for the last five years and while this Government has accepted that there is a problem it has repeatedly failed to take the tough decisions necessary to sort it out,’ Ms Walley added.
‘It remains unacceptable that a whole generation of children growing up in our polluted cities will have their health and development impaired by the illegal levels of air pollution.’
Commenting on the Government announcements, Sustrans health director Philip Insall, said: ‘With over 28,000 deaths attributed to air pollution every year, this half-hearted response completely fails to deal with this hidden health crisis.
‘Local toxic air pollution, causing all those premature deaths, is primarily due to emissions from motor traffic. It is clear that we can only address this by reducing reliance on motor vehicles and by scrapping the perverse incentives that have encouraged more people to use diesel instead of petrol.’