A ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles is set to come into effect from 2040 under bold new proposals to combat the so-called ‘toxic air crisis’.
The controversial measures form part of the Government’s £3Bn Clean Air Strategy, which prioritises electric and hybrid vehicles over their more polluting counterparts and looks to curtail emissions wherever possible.
It’s an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, the Government had been heavily criticised over its lukewarm response to air pollution. However, a High Court ruling compelled Conservative ministers to draft new proposals in a concerted effort to reduce illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide. This latest announcement is the Government’s response.
Speaking to the Today programme, Environment Secretary Michael Gove also confirmed that the Government would make available more than £200M of spending for local authority use. “What we’re saying to local authorities is come up with an imaginative solution to these proposals,” he said.
These ‘imaginative solutions’ might include a greener public transport system, alterations to existing road layouts and the reprogramming of traffic lights to lessen congestion.
Furthermore, when probed about the possibility of charges for certain vehicles, the Minister answered: “I don’t believe that it is necessary to bring in charging, but we will work with local authorities in order to determine what the best approach is.”
Clean air campaigners were quick to offer their support. Many have long petitioned the Government for Clean Air Zones and appropriate charges, and they are now clamoring for more details.
Industry leaders have been much less effusive however. In a measured response, Mike Hawes – Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders – told the BBC: “Demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles is growing but still at a very low level. The industry instead wants a positive approach which gives consumers incentives to purchase these cars. We could undermine the UK’s successful automotive sector if we don’t allow enough time for the industry to adjust.”
It’s a sea change for the fleet sector but there are valid concerns that drivers of diesel vehicles, many of whom bought them at the behest of the last Labour government, will be unduly “punished”.
According to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan: “The commitment to phase out sales of new diesel cars is welcome, but Londoners suffering right now simply can’t afford to wait until 2040. We need a fully-funded diesel scrappage fund now to get polluting vehicles off our streets immediately, as well as new powers so that cities across the UK can take the action needed to clean up our air.
“Without extra financial support for those who bought polluting vehicles in good faith then any pledge to clean up our air rings hollow.”
For now, much is up in the air and the British public awaits the Government’s response in full.