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Fleet stakeholders react to Government air quality plans

Date: 22 May 2017   |   Author: Daniel Puddicombe

The Government's long-awaited draft white paper on improving air quality in the UK has had a mixed reaction from fleet stakeholders.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the document details a list of measures "which are designed to reduce the impact of diesel vehicles and accelerate the move to cleaner transport".

The Government has opened a consultation on these measures which runs until 15 June. The final air quality action plan must be published by 31 July. According to Defra, "local authorities are already responsible for improving air quality in their area" and will "now be expected to develop new and creative solutions to reduce emissions as quickly as possible".
The draft white paper focuses on Clean Air Zones, something Defra has been mooting for a while.

According to the document, the minimum emissions standard for vehicles to not be charged for entering the zones is Euro6 for diesel cars and vans and Euro4 for petrol vehicles. It added that "ultra-low emission vehicles with significant zero-emission range will never be charged for entering or moving through a Clean Air Zone".

Jeremy Hicks, MD of Jaguar Land Rover, said he was pleased that Euro6 diesel drivers are unlikely to be impacted by the plans, should they come to fruition: "We welcome the consultation recognising the fundamental difference between older vehicles which contribute to air pollution and clean, new diesels which are part of the air quality solution."

A Defra spokeswoman told BusinessCar it will be up to local authorities to decide how to enforce the zones and whether or not motorists will need to pay - and how much if they decide to do so - to enter the areas.

"It is deeply worrying that local authorities have an option of introducing chargeable Clean Air Zones which would affect owners of relatively new diesel and some petrol vehicles," said RAC chief engineer David Bizley. "This potentially could impact millions of motorists, and while the Government has said it wants to discourage authorities from going down this route the strategy does not give a clear steer on how and when local authorities should implement which type of Clean Air Zone."

The framework also notes that local authorities procuring vehicles for use inside the zones must ensure the vehicles conform to the standards, while it added authorities will need to develop incentives to encourage employees to address their impact on air quality.

In addition, the framework dictates that authorities will need to work with businesses and SMEs "to help them understand their options for adapting to a Clean Air Zone", which includes encouraging employees to use public transport and/or car clubs to reduce pollution.

Businesses will also be advised to partake in recognition schemes, such as the Go Ultra Company project and the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) to prove their environmental credentials.

Incentives, such as lower business rates, could also be applied to those businesses which demonstrate "strong commitment and action in support of the ambitions of a Clean Air Zone".

Other incentives mentioned include councils providing lower parking fees for ULEVs and preferential delivery bays for businesses with ultra-low emission vans. "It appears the Government has abdicated responsibility for reducing air pollution to local authorities. If any issue needs tackling on a national - and international - level, it's this one. We have a national health emergency, and the Government is kicking the issue into the long grass," said Gary Rae, campaigns director for road safety charity Brake.

ClientEarth - the group of environmental lawyers that took the Government to court over the country's poor air quality - panned what it called "weak and incoherent" air quality plans.

"We fail to see how the non-charging Clean Air Zones, proposed by the Government, will be effective if they don't persuade motorists to stay out of those areas. The Government seems to be passing the buck to local authorities rather than taking responsibility for this public health emergency," said ClientEarth CEO James Thornton.

"The Government has also failed to commit to a diesel scrappage scheme and this is a crucial element of the range of measures needed to persuade motorists to move to cleaner vehicles. We will be analysing all the technical details in these documents."

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: "The SMMT welcomes the publication of the Government's proposals for improving air quality across the UK, which clearly states that the new Euro6 diesels which have been on sale for the past two years will not face any penalty charges anywhere in the UK."