More on the government's "woefully inadequate" air quality plans

Almost a million more people will have died prematurely along with countless others who will suffer ill-health by the time the Government's key measure in their new air quality plans comes into operation: the ban on all new petrol and diesel by 2040 and a commitment that "almost" every car and van on the road to be a zero emission vehicle by 2050. 

Before the end of July, the Government was forced to publish the UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations and accompanying detailed and technical documents along with a Summary of responses to the consultation after Client Earth's legal action showed existing plans were unlawful.  This ban on conventional vehicles was first announced in 2011.  We will have to wait and see if repetition of previously announced measures and shifting responsibility onto hard-pressed local authorities will be enough to stave off future legal action. Client Earth say the proposals are "little more than a shabby rewrite of the previous draft plans and is underwhelming and lacking in urgency. Having promised to make air quality a top priority, Michael Gove appears to have fallen at the first hurdle. This plan is, yet again, a plan for more plans."   Meanwhile, as Caroline Lucas points out, firms like Volvo plan on phasing out conventional vehicles 20 years earlier. 

The Local Government Association welcomed the shift from monitoring by local authorities to action to improve air quality but called on the Government to introduce a national diesel scrappage scheme to get the most polluting vehicles off the roads.  A limited scrappage scheme targeted at low income drivers or those in the immediate vicinity of clean air zones is one of several measures put off for another consultation.  The Government has also ruled out Clean Air Zones until all other options have been tried, even though their own evidence shows these are the quickest and most effective at improving air quality.

Cash-strapped local authorities are tasked with injecting urgency into dealing with the problem and developing initial plans by March 2018, final plans by December 2018 but no implementation deadline.  There's a £255 million Implementation Fund for feasibility and to support development and delivery of the plans and a Clean Air Fund with no sum attached that the councils can bid competitively for.  Does anyone know if this is genuinely new money? 

Whatever, it must be seen in the context of more than 40 million people being affected by illegal air quality under the responsibility of most of the 400 councils in the UK that together have a funding gap of ~£10 billion by 2018/19 and another £8.4 billion needed to replace EU funding after Brexit. 

The Government's priorities can be seen all too clearly in their Road Investment Strategy published in 2014 which brings forward 127 road schemes with funding of £15.7 BILLION while earlier this week scrapping rail electrification and reverting to "bi-mode" trains with diesel engines for running on non-electrified lines.

Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Sue Hayman said “Despite the scale of the problem of illegal air pollution, we are presented today with further consultations and delays, a squeamish attitude to clean air zones, shunting the problem onto local authorities and no detail about how the Government’s 2040 target will be achieved. With nearly 40 million people living in areas with illegal levels of air pollution, action is needed now, not in 23 years’ time.  This all comes after years of cuts to grants for electric vehicles and just days after the Government announced scrapping the electrification of rail lines and the introduction of diesel trains.  A Labour Government will introduce a new Clean Air Act to drive challenging emissions reduction targets, introduce a network of clean air zones and invest in greener, integrated public transport systems for the long term.”

Transport and pollution are a problem everywhere but our cities are being driven in the wrong direction at an alarming rate with rising house prices resulting in social cleansing and loss of local jobs meaning citizens travelling further to go about their daily business.  We are in the grip of  developers drive for profit making than the creation of sustainable neighbourhoods.  We urgently need to shift to an eco-city model for the sake of our health and our climate. 

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