Rowena Mason and Damian Carrington
Wednesday 26 July 2017 14.27 BST
Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has been accused of “kicking the can down the road” with his air quality proposals, after campaigners said those dying from the effects of pollution could not wait another 23 years for a ban on new petrol and diesel cars.
The long-awaited document contains a pledge to stop new petrol and diesel cars being sold in the UK after 2040, as well as measures to encourage councils to tackle pollution hotspots and potentially a limited scrappage scheme for the most polluting older vehicles.
Ministers had been urged to introduce charges for vehicles to enter a series of “clean air zones” (CAZ) but the government has said it only wants taxes to be considered as a last resort, fearing a backlash against any move that punishes motorists.
It says councils should exhaust other options before opting to impose charging, and restrictions should be time-limited and lifted as soon as pollution is within legal limits and there is no risk of future breaches.
Under the plan, a “targeted scrappage scheme” would be considered to incentivise drivers with cash to switch from the most polluting cars to cleaner vehicles but this would be directed at those who most need support, such as those on lower incomes or those living in the immediate vicinity of a clean air zone. It also sounds a negative tone about the idea, saying previous schemes have been “poor value for the taxpayer and open to a degree of fraud”.
The flagship measure is a pledge to ban new sales of conventional diesel and petrol cars by 2040, but this does not go as far as expected because hybrid car sales would still be allowed. Previously, the government had said 2050 emissions targets required “almost all new cars and vans sold to be near-zero emission at the tailpipe by 2040”.
Environmental campaigners, industry and opposition politicians believe the government’s action plan falls short of dealing with a health emergency caused by illegal levels of air pollution, which kills tens of thousands of people a year from related health conditions.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, was one of the plan’s leading critics, saying a “half-hearted commitment from government simply isn’t good enough”.
“Londoners suffering right now simply can’t afford to wait until 2040,” he added.
His position was echoed by Mary Creagh, the chair of the House of Commons environmental audit committee, who said airpollution “causes 40,000 early deaths every year in the UK, but today’s plan shows the government kicking the can down the road once more”.
s with the eyecatching promise to ban new diesel cars in future, when there was little in the plan to deal with immediate problems.