The government has been accused of passing the buck to local authorities after publishing its delayed draft Air Quality Plan, which charges authorities with tackling transport emissions.
Under the proposed air quality plans local authorities will be expected to enforce clean air zones “within the shortest possible time,” with a view to reducing nitrogen dioxide pollution primarily from diesel vehicles.
But it is not necessary for the clean air zones to charge vehicles for entering, according to the 81-page document, which describes road transport as “a key part of almost everything that we do as individuals or businesses with social and economic impacts which are much wider than air quality.”
Non-charging methods for authorities suggested by the government include improving road layouts to reduce traffic jams, encouraging public transport use, exploring new fuels, and encouraging private and public uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) by providing more charging points.
The government has also not committed to a diesel scrappage scheme, despite insisting that reducing nitrogen dioxide around roads is a top priority. It could reduce the incentive for motorists to switch to cleaner models.
Environmental law group ClientEarth has dismissed the proposals as “weak” and accused the government of “passing the buck” to local authorties.
“We are continuing to study the government’s latest air quality plan, but on the face of it it looks much weaker than we had hoped for,” said ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton.
“We will be analysing all the technical details in these documents. We are committed to ensuring the government protects our health and tackles illegal pollution as soon as possible.”
The government has been taken to court twice over its poor air quality plans, and is on its final warning from the EU over its dirty air. Last November environmental law group Client Earth won a High Court case against the government, which was ordered to publish revised air quality plans by 24 April.
But on Friday 21 April, the government lodged a request to delay publication until 30 June, after the election. Environment secretary Andrea Leadsom told Parliament this was due to pre-election restrictions.
However following pressure from environmental groups and other MPs the High Court rejected the government’s request. The final plan will now be published on 31 July, earlier than the 15 September date mentioned by Leadsom.
In addition to road transport emission reductions, the air quality plan includes rail and aviation emissions, and emissions from buildings, as areas to tackle.
In the plan the government cites its cleaner transport measures set out in the industrial strategy, including £290M for reducing transport emissions.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has already proposed an ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) in London from 2019.