More cities should charge polluting vehicles, say MPs

The government initiative that targets drivers of highly polluting vehicles should be extended to more cities in England. That’s according to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, which […]

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By Priyanka Shrestha

The government initiative that targets drivers of highly polluting vehicles should be extended to more cities in England.

That’s according to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, which believes ‘Clean Air Zones’ should be implemented across the country to tackle the “public health emergency” – air pollution.

The Department for Food, Environment & Rural Affairs (Defra) previously announced plans to impose Clean Air Zones in six of the most polluted cities – London, Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton.

That allows cities to charge polluting vehicles to discourage them from entering the city centre.

It followed a Supreme Court ruling which ordered the UK to comply with EU law on Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) in the air.

The cross-party committee of MPs is calling on for the powers to be given to “dozens” of other cities elsewhere in England that are exceeding EU limits.

The report states emissions have been declining significantly but there have been up to 50,000 early deaths every year in the UK due to cardiac, respiratory and other diseases linked to air pollution.

The committee believes plans for the new Clean Air Zones to cut NO2 pollution do not give councils sufficient control over implementation and says a ‘one size fits all’ zones must not be imposed.

It is calling on Defra to devolve greater flexibility to councils over how they can use powers over traffic movement and new development and provide them with adequate funding to take the best action for their communities.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the committee said: “Councils in the dozens of other English cities currently exceeding EU pollution limits must also be given the option of using such powers if their communities support action.

“The zones need to deliver local solutions to local problems. Defra’s proposed ‘one-size-fits-all’ clean air zones will set rigid rules on cities as diverse as Southampton and Leeds. Communities must be given legal powers to set controls that meet their own circumstances – for example, some might want to charge polluting vehicles to access zones at certain times of day or to target specific bus routes.”

The committee is also urging the government to consider introducing a diesel scrappage scheme for older vehicles.

Defra told ELN a ‘one size fits all’ rule would not be imposed on cities as they will have different needs and other local authorities have approached the government to implement Clean Air Zones in their areas.

A spokesperson added: “Tackling air quality is a priority for this government and our plans set out how we will achieve this through continued investment in clean technologies and by encouraging the uptake of low emission vehicles.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils need a range of powers and devolved funding to allow them to further tackle poor air quality.

Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Environment spokesman added: “This includes the ability to combat congestion hot spots – through enforcing moving traffic violations outside London, including illegal U-turns and box junction offences – and to promote alternative travel such as cycling, walking and public transport.

“We are also calling on the government to fully fund the concessionary fares scheme, handing control over the Bus Service Operators’ Grant, a fuel duty rebate paid directly to bus operators by the government. It is also important that the government takes action at a national level to incentivise a move away from polluting diesel vehicles to non-diesel transport.”

The Energy and Climate Change Committee is also urging the government to set a fifth carbon budget.