New pollution plan piles more pressure on councils

 

The Government’s revised air quality plan requires councils to draw up initial plans to tackle toxic air pollution within eight months and is set to impose extra taxes on diesel drivers.

The most polluting cities outside London will also be expected to implement Clean Air Zones to charge drivers of the most polluting vehicles by the end of 2019 but only if other methods will not be enough.

A new £255m fund, which is likely to be funded by higher duty on diesel, will help pay for implementation, with £40m to be 'made available immediately' to help councils.

The Government also pledged to establish a Clean Air Fund, which will allow local authorities to bid for additional money to support the implementation of measures to improve air quality.

'This could include interventions such as improvements to local bus fleets, support for concessionary travel and more sustainable modes of transport such as cycling, or infrastructure changes.'

An overview document confirms the Government’s intention to end the sale of ‘all conventional petrol and diesel cars’ by 2040. Despite earlier reports, a spokesperson for environment department Defra confirmed that the ban would not apply to hybrids.

”Local

However, the plan’s main focus is much shorter-term – to achieve statutory limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution ‘within the shortest time possible’.

It states that ‘local action is needed to achieve improvements in air quality’ but adds ‘we also recognise the need for strong national leadership'.

'We will set a clear national framework for the steps that local authorities need to take,’ it pledges.

The document states that, in areas where air pollution is above legal limits, ‘in order to inject additional urgency into this process, we will now require local authorities to set out initial plans eight months from now, by the end of March 2018’.

Government documents identify those local authorities with roads believed to have NO2 levels above legal limits as well ‘when, in the absence of further action, they would be expected to come within legal limits’.

Documents also identify 29 authorities with ‘the greatest problem with exceedances projecting beyond the next 3-4 years’, which will be required to take further action.

The plan states: ‘The UK government continues to expect local authorities in the five cities named above [a reference to five previously named cities: Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton] to deliver their Clean Air Zones by the end of 2019’.

A Defra spokesperson told Transport Network that the Government still intends to mandate the five cities, and possibly other authorities, to implement CAZs.

The detailed plan also suggests that ministers intend to increase taxes on diesel cars or fuel, an issue that is currently subject to a review. It states that ‘all measures will be funded by relevant taxes on new diesel cars alongside existing departmental budgets’.

Although the Government has referred to a ‘£3bn programme to clean up dirty air around our roads’, it appears that the only new money is a ‘£255m Implementation Fund to support local authorities to prepare their plans and deliver targeted action to improve air quality’.

Government documents list other spending worth £2.7bn on air quality and cleaner transport. However, this includes £1.2bn in the recent Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy ‘which may be invested in cycling and walking from 2016-2021’. 

As Transport Network has previously reported, this figure includes nearly £900m anticipated spending by councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

The overview document states that: ‘A targeted scrappage scheme will also be considered.’ However, the detailed plan notes that ‘analysis of previous schemes has shown poor value for the taxpayer and that they are open to a degree of fraud’.

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