The Government has today launched a document entitled ‘Clean Air Zone Framework – Principles for setting up Clean Air Zones in England’. Proposals include the retrofitting of emission-reducing equipment to the highest polluting vehicles and the introduction of more Clean Air Zones.
Vehicles meeting a minimum standard would gain free entry into a Clean Air Zone – this would include diesel cars with Euro 6 standards and petrol cars with Euro 4 standards.
Fully electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would not be charged, while hybrid vehicles which meet minimum emissions requirements could also be exempt. The document states that: “Ultra low emission vehicles with significant zero emission range will never be charged for entering or moving through a Clean Air Zone.”
There was talk beforehand that a diesel scrappage scheme may be introduced, but there is no mention of this in the plan.
The plans are now open for public consultation until 15th June, ahead of the final air quality plan’s publication on 31st July.
The government has warned local authorities they should explore all other alternatives to tackle air pollution before fining motorists who drive polluting vehicles into city centres – although London has already proposed a T-Charge ‘toxic’ tax.
The document says that ensuring Clean Air Zones provide ‘in use’ incentives for ULEVs (ultra low emission vehicles) should also help incentivise drivers affected by Clean Air Zones to choose ULEVs in any decisions about buying a new vehicle. This may take the form of priority access or benefits for ULEV use, including:
Vehicle excise duty was cut in 2001 on diesel cars to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to encourage purchase of fuel-efficient diesels. The policy was in response to the 1997 Kyoto climate change treaty. Four in ten cars on British roads – almost 12 million – are now running on diesel. However diesel-engined cars can produce four times more nitrogen dioxide and 22 times more particulates than petrol-engined cars – both of which are major risks to health.
The government has been ordered by the courts to produce a final plan by the end of July to bring the UK back into compliance with EU air quality rules as soon as possible, following a lengthy court battle with environmental law firm ClientEarth. Its first plan was rejected by the courts last year for not being ambitious enough.
Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Green Party, has described the plan as ‘feeble’.
What are the implications for drivers?
This Government White Paper will provide yet more reasons to encourage sales of electric vehicles.
Pure electric cars have no tailpipe emissions – which is essential to help improve levels of local air quality. If a pure electric car isn’t seen as a practical option due to limited driving range, then a plug-in hybrid or an extended-range electric vehicle would be ideal for people whose driving is mainly local, with occasional longer journeys. If a mix of urban and longer distance driving is undertaken, and motorists have no easy way of charging a plug-in car, then a petrol car could provide the solution.
However if your driving is predominantly up and down motorways, and you do lots of miles each year, then in most cases nothing else will be as economical as a diesel vehicle – which is also likely to deliver lower levels of CO2 emissions in the real world compared to a petrol car. But the diesel engine should be as modern as possible, ideally the latest Euro 6 standard.
(Select a car and click the link for that car to view data including NOx emissions and particle emissions)