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Proposals to improve air quality published
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Proposals to improve air quality published

The Government has today published its plans to tackle issues of poor air quality. The proposals, drawn up by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for Transport are now subject to a six week consultation process.

Key to the strategy is curbing levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions which contribute to increased levels of air pollution, particularly around our road network.

Plans to tax older diesel cars are among those on the table for consideration, alongside the introduction of designated Clean Air Zones and targeted funding for the purchase of electric public transport vehicles and a ban on licensing of diesel taxis.

Below, in the Government’s own words, are the key points of today’s announcement:

The Government is committed to build a stronger economy and a fairer society. A cleaner, healthier environment benefits people and the economy. Clean air is essential for making sure that the UK is a healthy and prosperous country for people to live and work.

Over recent decades, UK air quality has improved significantly thanks to concerted action at all levels but there is more to do. Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK and investing in cleaner air and doing even more to tackle air pollution are priorities for the UK Government.

The most immediate air quality challenge is tackling the problem of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations around roads – the only statutory air quality obligation that the UK is currently failing to meet. This document, accompanied by a Technical Report, provides an overview of the UK plan for doing so. Combined with the wider actions to reduce other harmful air pollution emissions, it will help our cities to become cleaner and help to grow the economy.

The link between improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions is particularly important and the UK Government will continue to develop solutions which reduce NO2 and carbon. Central to its objective of reducing NO2 and carbon emissions is the UK Government’s aim for almost every car and van to be a zero emission vehicle by 2050.

Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK.

Air pollution also results in damage to the natural environment. NO2 contributes to acidification and eutrophication of soil and watercourses, which impacts on animal and plant life and biodiversity. It also contributes to local ozone production which damages agricultural crops, forests and plants.

Air pollution has social costs and threatens economic growth. It also impacts upon people of working age which can have economic effects, for instance if they have to take days off work. It is estimated that in 2012, poor air quality had a total cost of up to £2.7 billion through its impact on productivity

Between 2000 and 2015 in Great Britain: (i) the number of licensed cars increased from 24.4 million to 30.3 million; the percentage of diesel cars increased from 12.9% (3.2 million) to 37.8% (11.4 million). (ii) The number of licensed light goods vehicles (LGVs) increased from 2.4 million to 3.6 million; the percentage of diesel LGVs increased from 76.9% (1.8 million) to 95.9% (3.5 million).

Road transport is still by far the largest contributor to NO2 pollution in the local areas where the UK is exceeding limit values. Addressing road transport emissions therefore presents the most significant opportunity to tackle this specific exceedance problem. However road transport is 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. This means setting new policies and incentives to promote new technology and innovation, speeding up the move to cleaner vehicles and supporting the industrial strategy to deliver cleaner air for UK towns and cities. The solution involves effective and appropriately targeted actions to:

  1. reduce emissions of NOx from the current road vehicle fleet in problem locations now; and
  2. accelerate road vehicle fleet turnover to cleaner vehicles to ensure that the problem remains addressed and does not move to other locations.

The Government will continue to explore the appropriate tax treatment for diesel vehicles and will engage with stakeholders ahead of making any tax changes at Autumn Budget 2017.

Clearer fuel efficiency labelling on new cars within 12 months.

Any local authority can implement a Clean Air Zone to address a local air quality issue. Following a consultation in 2016, the UK Government has published a Clean Air Zone Framework in England setting out the principles for the operation of Clean Air Zones in any cities which decide, or are required, to do so

Clean Air Zones fall into two categories:

Non-charging Clean Air Zones – These are defined geographic areas used as a focus for action to improve air quality. This action can take a range of forms but does not include the use of charge based access restrictions.

Charging Clean Air Zones – These are zones where, in addition to the above, designated vehicles are required to pay a charge to enter or to move within the zone, if they are driving a vehicle that does not meet the particular standard for their vehicle type in that zone.

Retro-fitting old public transport buses and encouraging the purchase of electric vehicles

London specific actions to ensure by NO2 levels compliance by 2025 or sooner:

The introduction of an Emissions Surcharge (‘T-Charge’) from 23 October 2017, which will help discourage older (pre-Euro 4) polluting vehicles from central London

  1. Launching an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in April 2019, subject to consultation, and extending it London-wide for heavy vehicles (HGVs, buses and coaches) and to the North and South Circular roads for all vehicles
  2. Twelve low emission bus zones deploying the greenest buses on the most polluted routes
  3. For buses, phasing out pure diesel buses, retrofitting 5000 older buses, and a commitment to purchase only hybrid or zero-emission double decker buses from 2018
  4. For taxis (black cabs) no new diesel taxis will be licensed from 1 January 2018, with an expectation of 9,000 zero emission capable taxis by 2020
  5. Introducing five low emission neighbourhoods spanning eight boroughs
  6. Issuing alerts for very high and high pollution alerts at 2,500 bus countdown signs, 140 road side variable message signs, and at all Tube stations. Messages (for high alerts) include encouraging people to walk, cycle and use public transport and to switch their car engine off when stationary
  7. Putting a significant shift towards walking, cycling and public transport use at the heart of the forthcoming Mayor’s Transport Strategy
  8. Public realm improvements to reduce traffic on Oxford Street and across the West End; and
  9. Setting emission requirements for non road mobile machinery through the planning system and developing tighter air quality planning requirements for Opportunity Area Planning Frameworks and Housing Zones.


The full document is available at:


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