The public should be given vouchers to pay for old, high emission cars to be converted into less polluting LPG vehicles under Government plans for Clean Air Zones in the UK, according to a report from the independent think tank ResPublica.
In Air Necessities: Place-based solutions to a pollution crisis, ResPublica finds that plans to create less polluted cities need to go further if targets to reduce increasing levels of harmful pollutants are to be met.
Clean Air Zones are to be established in Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton with charges, at a rate decided on by councils, for the most polluting vehicles to enter.
ResPublica says more zones should be implemented and all revenue raised should go back into improving air quality. Pollution Reduction Vouchers would allow less well-off members of the public to access garage mechanics to convert their car engines to gas power. As well as the money raised from charges, this could be funded with a £10 increase in the cost of vehicle registration.
Money raised could also be used to help low-income households to access vouchers to buy bicycles or use public transport.
At the same time councils – which have the power to decide on whether to charge cars or not – should offer taxi drivers zero-interest loans to convert their vehicles to LPG.
Despite efforts by the Government, the situation is getting worse. Particulate matter, or soot, emissions up by 0.9 per cent between 2014 and 2015 with diesel vehicles responsible for the majority of harmful emissions.
In many urban areas the UK is not projected to meet EU targets for nitrogen oxide (NOx) reduction by 2020, and developing medical evidence suggests there is ‘no safe limit’ for NOx exposure. Approximately 40,000 deaths per year are attributable to the effects of the combined effects of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Pollution costs UK productivity £2.7bn a year.
Report author Tom Follett said: “We need to make sure Clean Air Zones work well if high levels of pollution are going to be tackled. This means reducing the number of polluting vehicles as well as encouraging a more sustainable approach to transport across the country.
“As well as helping car and taxi drivers we must also make sure that, while we concentrate on reducing pollution from buses, the use of public transport is encouraged. HGVs also have a vital role in our economy and therefore, while their emissions should be constrained – we need to work with hauliers to make sure Britain can keep working.
“Councils will be vital in supporting the infrastructure and fuelling sites for low-emission freight, both through the planning system and through offering business rate exemptions.”
Director of ResPublica, Phillip Blond, said: ““The government should be applauded for their efforts to reduce the toxic emissions which continue to pollute the air of Britain’s cities and damage people’s health.
“We must be careful, however, that any levies on drivers entering urban areas are not simply a congestion charge but are used instead to dramatically improve air quality.
“One key point must be that if we make the polluters pay, we should also use that money to help the owners of polluting cars and vehicles to offset refit costs in order to clean up their emissions.”
ResPublica highlight Government statistics showing that on our most polluted roads, 62% of nitrogen oxides were emitted by HGVs, buses and vans outside London.
It recommends councils provide clear plan for 5-year phase in of Clean Air Zones – allowing time for all businesses to adjust and buy new vehicles.
ResPublica also says that where buses are included in Clean Air Zone charging, cars should also be included otherwise the cost advantage could persuade people to move away from public transport.
Supporting the report, Neil Parish MP, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, said: “I welcome the publication of ResPublica’s report on improving air quality in our towns and cities. The state of air quality in urban areas is a national disgrace and it’s high time the Government took comprehensive action to keep air pollution levels below legal limits.
“The report comes at just the right time, with the Government legally obliged to produce a new draft air quality plan by April. It contains a whole string of policy recommendations – from Pollution Reduction Vouchers to get the dirtiest vehicles of our roads, to support for retro-fitting taxis and buses in Clean Air Zones – which the Government should carefully consider.
“The report rightly highlights how the devolution agenda and the election of new Metro-Mayors is a prime opportunity to put air quality to the top of the political agenda.
“I hope Defra, the DfT and wider Government will consider the recommendations over the coming months.”
Dr Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test and Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, said: “I welcome many of the recommendations made in this report by ResPublica. The implementation of Clean Air Zones provides an opportunity to really tackle the issue of poor air quality if done right. These zones should be implemented alongside a strong public awareness campaign and real opportunities for drivers to transition away from polluting vehicles and towards low emission vehicles as ResPublica rightly outline.”
Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South and former Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, said: “I am pleased to see this report, which outlines the ambitious measures needed if we are to clean up our air and improve people’s health.
“It’s clear that air pollution isn’t limited to four or five cities, and I hope the government will commit to working with all cities who want to achieve clean, world-class transport networks.
“Nottingham is leading the way on this and now Ministers must give the council the powers it needs to go even further.”
The report’s recommendations are:
Make Clean Air Zones work well
Mandate Class D (car-charging) Clean Air Zones in all cities breaching the current EU standards by 2021 to prevent downward competition between cities and displacement of polluting vehicles.
Retarget the Low Emission Bus Scheme funding to specific marginal bus routes that are likely to be withdrawn if buses are charged to enter Clean Air Zones.
Where buses are included in Clean Air Zone charging, cars should also be included (otherwise this will create an undesirable cost advantage for cars).
Provide clear plan for 5-year phased implementation of Clean Air Zones – allowing time for all businesses to adjust and buy new vehicles.
Clean Air Zone councils should publish plans identifying how they will work with bus operators to move all vehicles to gas or electric as soon as possible.
Support a rapid transition to low-emission vehicles
For Government and cities
The revenue from Clean Air Zone charging should be recycled into Pollution Reduction Vouchers. These would be available for those living in the city, possessing non-compliant vehicles purchased before 2017, in city-regions with a clean air zone, for households earning less than 60% of the median UK household income, helping to offset the cost of the charge.
Pollution Reduction Vouchers could be spent on vehicle retrofit schemes, a low-emission vehicle, a bike, or a multi-year public transport ticket.
Fully fund a scalable technology development program to retrofit noncompliant buses so operators have viable technology to convert old buses. This will help avoid destroying smaller operators, which will damage the bus market.
Publish as soon as possible a clear national ‘kitemark’ for retrofit technology accredited through the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership accreditation scheme, whether though emissions reduction, LPG, electricity, methane, or other alternative fuels.
Integrate Clean Air Zones with the Industrial Strategy Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) Sector Deal. Centres of excellence and manufacture for LEVs should be located in regions with Clean Air Zones.
Vehicle Excise Duty for newly registered cars should be tiered, with the most polluting (based on combined CO2, NOx and PM2.5) paying higher rates every year rather than the current flat rate after year 1.
Offer a taxi package of:
Zero-interest loans to convert their vehicles to low-emission vehicles, whether LPG or electric (if available)
Extended licensing term of life for low-emission retrofitted taxis.
Reduce licence fees for drivers of low-emission taxis.
Free taxi inspections for low-emission taxis.
As part of their Local Transport Plan process, councils should review the coverage of low-emission fuelling/charging infrastructure on their roads and look to ‘fill in the gaps’ at suitable sites in and outside of CAZs, making use of land they own.
To encourage commercial low-emission refuelling sites, councils should offer business rate relief as well as time-limited low-interest loans.
Councils should lead the way by adapting their own fleets to low-emission vehicles, and requiring that contractors do the same.
Allow strong local ambition
In parallel with the introduction of Clean Air Zones, cities should appraise how they will create a coherent brand, standards and network of routes, considering options including Advanced Quality Partnerships and direct franchising.
Councils should produce assessments of the potential value of parking land if used for other purposes, to help them take tough decisions around parking.
City councils should start an honest conversation about impact and cost of air pollution in local media, and communicate daily pollution alerts using existing visual displays and other electronic media.
Cities should run public engagement campaigns outlining how public transport will be improved in the run-up to implementation of Clean Air Zones, presenting all aspects as part of an integrated plan.
Metro-mayor candidates should outline a five-year air pollution plan in their manifestos for the May 2017 elections.
Local stakeholders and groups should run public campaigns to raise awareness of the effects of air pollution on health.
Notes to the Editor:
Air Necessities: Place-based solutions to a pollution crisis was sponsored by Calor and the Energy and Utilities Alliance.
The ResPublica Trust is an independent non-partisan think tank. Through research, policy innovation and programmes, ResPublica seeks to establish a new economic, social and cultural settlement. In order to heal the long-term rifts in this country ResPublica aims to combat the concentration of wealth and power by distributing ownership and agency to all, and by re-instilling culture and virtue across the economy and society.
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