The UK Government has rejected calls to raise taxes on diesel vehicles to reduce air pollution but said it would consider a national network of low-emission zones.
Last year the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on air quality called for a tax regime for diesel cars and for further National Planning Policy Framework guidance to protect schoolchildren in air pollution “hotspots”.
The government has also been criticised for failing to meet European Union limits on nitrogen dioxide, which is produced by diesel engines.
In response to the EAC’s report, the government said it is “committed” to improving air quality and is focused on supporting cleaner vehicles and sustainable transport.
It added there are no plans to change fuel duty: “The government announced at Budget 2013 it has no plans to make significant changes to the VED [Vehicle Excise Duty] structure in this Parliament and announced at Autumn Statement 2013 that fuel duty will be frozen for the remainder of this Parliament.”
Chair of the EAC Joan Walley MP criticised the government for its failure to “act now” despite repeated warnings.
She said: “This was an opportunity for the government to pledge decisive action to cut the air pollution, thought to be killing nearly as many people in the UK as smoking. But Coalition Ministers have once again failed to face up to the problem and instead passed the buck on to the next Government.
“We have been warning 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.
“The Government has been ordered by the European Court to come up with an urgent plan to save lives by reducing the air pollution on British streets to safe levels.”
It is urging the government to commit to introducing a network of low emission zones used in other nations to limit vehicle emissions in cities and town centres.
Last year London Mayor Boris Johnson announced plans to create such a zone in central London by 2020.