Diesel cars, coaches, trucks and vans could reportedly face additional charges of up to £20 to travel through town and city centres across England under new air pollution measures drawn up by the government.
The charges would apply to 35 urban areas in England, according to report in the Sunday Times, which also suggested private and commercial diesel vehicles could face bans from driving altogether during peak traffic hours in up to 10 of the worst affected city centres.
The newspaper estimates up to 10 million diesel vehicles could be affected by the plans, which are due to be announced next week by Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom. Only the newest, lowest-emission engines would be exempt from the diesel crackdown.
In London, the new charges would come in addition to congestion charging rules which will from later this year see all diesel vehicles pay an additional £10 ‘T-charge’, or ‘toxicity charge’, to travel through the centre of the city.
It follows last year’s order from the High Court that the government must produce a new air quality plan for the UK after a previous draft – which included measures to establish just five ‘Clean Air Zones’ across England in Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby – was deemed inadequate.
Defra must publish a draft of the new plan for consultation by 24 April, and the measures are expected to expand the number of Clean Air Zones to 35 of the most polluted city centres in England, as well as extending the charges beyond commercial vehicles to include private diesel cars.
The new, larger network of Clean Air Zones would be enforced with cameras similar to those used in London, and would be likely to include major English cities such as Manchester and Liverpool.
Local councils will also be encouraged to put in place additional measures such as park-and-ride schemes, low emission buses and cycle lanes to help drive down traffic pollution, although they would be given the power to exempt certain residents from charges.
A Whitehall source is quoted in the newspaper as stating that the proposals will vary from city to city as there is no “one size fits all approach” to tackling road pollution.
The newspaper also claims ministers have abandoned plans to offer a diesel vehicles scrappage scheme to incentivise drivers to trade in their higher-polluting cars as they deemed such a scheme to be too costly.
Sam Hall, senior researcher at liberal Conservative think tank Bright Blue, said it was “great news” that the government was planning to set up low emission zones across the UK.
“Air pollution is a serious public health issue that goes well beyond just a few cities,” said Hall. “Our research has shown that 40 per cent of local authorities in the UK breached legal air pollution limits in 2015. Low emission zones are a targeted solution to cutting air pollution that reduce the number of old polluting vehicles entering polluted cities. They also ensure that the owners of these vehicles pay the social costs of their pollution.”