Air pollution forces UK to ban diesel and petrol vehicles

The UK has joined France and other European countries in banning new diesel and petrol vehicles.
Published: Fri 28 Jul 2017

The law, which comes into action from 2040, aims to reduce extremely high air pollution levels. One exception is that van drivers will be given the right to use heavier vehicles if these are electric or gas-powered.

The move forms part of the government’s clean air strategy.

The country is currently one of 17 EU countries that are breaching annual targets for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The illegal levels of NO2 saw the High Court ordering the government to find a solution to the problem.

Government provides EV support

The government is providing £225m to help British towns and cities tackle emissions from diesel vehicles. The funding is aimed at supporting work to conduct feasibility studies as well as deliver local plans. Around £40m will be given to local authorities to help improve air quality “in the shortest time possible”.

A good example is the UK’s first multi-brand electric vehicle (EV) showroom in Milton Keynes. The EV Experience Centre, operated by Chargemaster, received £9m from the government to encourage the take-up of ultra-low emission vehicles.

The Centre receives support from BMW i, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault Volkswagen and also the AA Trust, which will offer Drive Electric lessons from the centre. EV experts are available at the Centre to provide information and advice on EVs, even helping visitors test drive vehicles.

Local authorities will also be able to bid for money from a new Clean Air Fund to support improvements to reduce the need for restrictions on polluting vehicles, such as charging zones. The government says that could instead include plans to change road layouts, remove traffic lights and speed humps or retrofit buses.

The government is urging councils to consider alternate options before imposing electric charging. It has been suggested that restrictions be time limited and lifted “as soon as pollution is within the legal limits and the risk of future breaches has passed”.

Developing a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy

Under proposed new laws, manufacturers that use devices on their vehicles to cheat emissions tests could face criminal and civil charges, with fines of up to £50,000 for every device installed.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “Today’s plan sets out how we will work with local authorities to tackle the effects of roadside pollution caused by dirty diesels, in particular nitrogen dioxide. This is one element of the government’s £3bn programme to clean up the air and reduce vehicle emissions.” He added: “Improving air quality is about more than just transport so next year we will publish a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy. This will set out how we will address all forms of air pollution, delivering clean air for the whole country.”

The government intends to issue a consultation to gather views on ways in which to support motorists, residents and businesses affected by local plans, such as retrofitting, subsidised car club memberships, exemptions from any vehicle restrictions or a targeted scrappage scheme for car and van drivers.

Ban may be costly

FairFuelUK, a campaign group that fights for lower fuel duty and transparent pricing, says the ban will cost “trillions to consumers and the economy”. It stated: “It is inevitable that carbon based fuels will be phased out to favour cleaner fuels but to do it as a cliff edge in 20 years is naïve and ill thought out. Better to phase in new fuel technologies to work effectively and be supported, without a target date to terminate diesel and petrol.”

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “The commitment to phase out sales of new diesel cars is welcome but Londoners suffering right now simply can’t afford to wait until 2040. We need a fully funded diesel scrappage fund now to get polluting vehicles off our streets immediately as well as new powers so that cities across the UK can take the action needed to clean up our air.” Khan said that people, who bought polluting vehicles in good faith, should receive additional financial support.

But has the date been set too far ahead? Car manufacturers like Volvo have announced their intention to move away from petrol and diesel cars by 2020, while Germany, India, the Netherlands and Norway are all considering bans by 2030 or earlier.

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