The NO2 plan will not require local authorities to charge polluting vehicles to enter Clean Air Zones (CAZs), unless councils are unable to reduce air pollution by other means such as retrofitting diesel vehicles, increasing ULEV uptake, improving public transport or even access restrictions on specific vehicles.
Earlier analysis published by Defra had found that increasing the number of charging CAZs from the current 6 planned to 27 would make the greatest impact on cutting pollution and provide cost benefits of over £1bn. However, the Government faced opposition from motoring groups and has been sensitive to the accusation that it would be punishing motorists for what have been perceived as failures in past policy.
Britain's commitment to end combustion engine car sales follows a similar pledge recently made by the French Government.
OLEV's 2013 strategy 'Driving the Future Today' had set out a vision "to see a UK car fleet with effectively zero emissions by 2050". The latest announcement sets out a staging post on the journey to the Government's earlier-stated vision.
The new plan, which was due by the end of July, comes after a draft in May that environmental lawyers - NGO Client Earth who have taken the Government to court over the issue - described as “much weaker than hoped for”.
The Guardian, which received an advance copy of the plan, reports that measures to be urgently brought in by local authorities breaching EU rules include retrofitting buses and other public transport, changing road layouts, reprogramming traffic lights and altering features such as roundabouts and speed humps to improve traffic flow.
Local authorities will be required to publish their plans by March 2018 and finalise them by the end of that year. Importantly the plans should feature both “sticks” and “carrots” to discourage dirty vehicles and promote public, clean and healthy transport.
Britain’s air quality package also includes the already-announced £1bn investment to encourage the introduction of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) including nearly £100m for the UK’s charging infrastructure and funding the plug-in car and van grant schemes.
The Guardian says that there will also be £290m for the National Productivity Investment Fund, which will help to fund the retrofitting of vehicles, and support the introduction of low emission taxis.
The newspaper says that the report will also include an air quality grant for councils, a green bus fund for low emission buses, £1.2bn for cycling and walking and £100m to help air quality on the roads.
The plan does not contain a vehicle scrappage scheme but the government is gathering views and is to consult on the potential for such a scheme later this year. .
The coalition government had already set out a vision for almost every car and van to be ultra-low emission by 2050 – a move which the government acknowledged would require “almost all new cars and vans sold to be near-zero emission at the tailpipe by 2040”.
Responding to the announcement, LowCVP's Managing Director Andy Eastlake said: "We welcome this clear signal to manufacturers and motorists that the days of cars and vans running on fossil fuels are numbered. While 2040 was already a target for phasing out conventional petrol and diesel vehicles, this announcement and media interest, strengthens that commitment and will bring it much more sharply into public consciousness.
"While the timing of the decision has been driven by the immediate air quality agenda, the plans will - crucially - also help us to deliver the key long-term objective of tackling climate change.
"There is still a considerable challenge in terms of tackling air pollution in the shorter-term. We welcome the fact that our calls to hasten the introduction of low emission buses and trucks and certify retrofit systems have been heeded and measures to do the same for taxis will also make a helpful contribution. Plans to give consumers more transparent and reliable information on both the emissions and fuel consumption of vehicles are also welcome and feature strongly in the LowCVP activity”
"Defra's earlier analysis highlighted that vehicle retrofit solutions can make a very significant near-term and cost effective contribution to tackling local pollution (in excess of 90% NOx reduction in many cases.) The LowCVP looks forward to playing an important part in this, having been commissioned by the Government to produce a robust, evidence-based scheme to accredit the effectiveness of proposed retrofit options (through the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme - CVRAS)."
Stop press (update): A judge in Germany has placed a ban on most polluting diesels entering the German city of Stuttgart from January 2018, ruling previous plans from city government not ambitious enough. The judge ruled that Stuttgart must re-write its Air Quality Plan to include a ban on the most polluting diesels in the city from next year, after he deemed the current plan inadequate for bringing air pollution back within legal limits. (See Business Green source)