The UK Government has unveiled plans to ban diesel and petrol cars in a package of radical measures designed to tackle air pollution.
In what effectively sounds a death knell for diesel and petrol cars, the Government published its eagerly awaited clean air strategy this week with a headline announcement to ban diesel and petrol cars by 2040.
As part of the strategy, ministers also unveiled a £255m fund to help councils tackle emissions from diesel vehicles by targeting particular roads with high pollution, although the Government did not specify the cities, towns or areas likely to be affected.
The local focused measures proposed include altering buses and other transport to make them cleaner, changing road layouts, altering features such as speed humps, and re-programming traffic lights to make vehicle-flow smoother.
The Government has deferred the introduction of a diesel scrappage scheme –outlined in June’s draft proposal and designed to take 15,000 diesel and older petrol cars off the road by replacing them with electric cars – by moving the issue to further consultation later in the year.
Campaigners calling for a diesel scrappage scheme have been left further disappointed by a lack of Government action on calls for government-funded and mandated clean air zones, with charges for the most polluting vehicles to enter areas with high air pollution.
The calls for charging zones were backed up by an assessment published alongside the draft plans which suggested they were the most effective measures to tackle nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from diesel vehicles.
However, ministers have been wary of being seen to “punish” drivers of diesel cars, who they claim bought the vehicles in good faith after being encouraged by previous Governments to buy them on the basis they produced lower carbon emissions.
A Government spokesman commenting on the plan said: “Poor air quality is the biggest environmental risk to public health in the UK and this government is determined to take strong action in the shortest time possible.
“Our plan to deal with dirty diesels will help councils clean up emissions hotspots – often a single road – through common sense measures which do not unfairly penalise ordinary working people.
“Diesel drivers are not to blame and, to help them switch to cleaner vehicles, the Government will consult on a targeted scrappage scheme, one of a number of measures to support motorists affected by local plans.”
The air quality strategy and ban on diesel and petrol cars has received a mixed response from the automotive industry, campaigners and environmental organisations.
The automotive industry trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said it was important to avoid outright bans on diesels, which would hurt the sector.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “Currently 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.”
Environmental campaigners though were disappointed with the Government’s strategy, criticising them for not going far enough with their plans.
Areeba Hamid, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “The high court was clear that the government must bring down toxic air pollution in the UK in the shortest possible time. This plan is still miles away from that.
“The government cannot shy away any longer from the issue of diesel cars clogging up and polluting our cities, and must now provide real solutions, not just gimmicks.
“That means proper clean air zones and funding to support local authorities to tackle illegal and unsafe pollution.”
The unveiling of the new clean air strategy comes in the midst of weeks of high profile announcements signalling the end of the road for diesel and petrol cars.
At the start of July, French President Emmanuel Macron announced similar plans to phase out diesel and petrol cars by 2040 in France.
This week has saw the Government unveil plans for a £246 million pound investment in battery technology for electric vehicles and BMW announcing it would build a fully electric version of the popular Mini at its Cowley plant in Oxford.
A survey conducted by automotive consultancy Alix Partners in July reported the number of diesel cars on the road is set to halve in little over a decade as hybrid and electric vehicles become the dominant mode of transport.
It all points to a new motoring vision going forward as the Government’s ban on diesel and petrol cars signals the end for the modern combustion engine, – a dusty relic soon to be condemned to history as motorists get set to embrace an all-electric future.