4 December 2015

Government focused on tackling air quality but is not ‘anti-diesel', says minister

Tackling air quality was a government priority, but it was not ‘anti-diesel', Transport Minister Andrew Jones told delegates to the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association's (BVRLA) Industry Conference.

Appearing at the conference via video link, he said: ‘The government is not anti-diesel. Diesel cars have played and continue to play a valuable role in reducing fuel usage and emissions of carbon dioxide.’

Highlighting that tackling air quality was a priority for the government, Mr Jones continued: ‘There are at least 29,000 early deaths each year associated with poor air quality. This is unacceptable.’

Mr Jones was speaking just a week after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in the Autumn Statement changed his mind about abolishing the 3% diesel company car benefit-in-kind tax supplement from April 2016. Instead it will remain in place until April 2021.

Mr Osborne said the supplement would be retained until new European Union-wide emissions testing procedures would ensure new diesel cars met air quality standards even under strict real world driving conditions.

Meanwhile, the government has recently consulted on its air quality plans and a major part of the approach is for local action on Clean Air Zones.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) consultation document outlines a range of actions to reduce vehicle emissions at individual, local, regional, national and European levels.

The proposals include the nationwide roll-out of Clean Air Zones or Low Emissions Zones, as already seen in London with an Ultra Low Emission Zone due to be introduced in the capital’s centre in September 2020.

Although individual local authorities will be left to decide whether to introduce Clean Air Zones in their respective areas, the government intends to develop a framework that aims to provide clarity and consistency of approach as opposed to the current city by city approach.

That means that if a network of emissions-based urban access controls develops across Britain, businesses and individuals will be able to make decisions against consistent criteria. DEFRA intends to set out the full framework for Clean Air Zones in early 2016 and will work closely with local authorities.

Mr Jones said: ‘We will continue to work on common standards for clean air zones. This is designed to give long-term certainty to the leasing and rental sector.’

Such a policy is likely to mean that fleets will have to adapt their vehicle replacement strategies to take account of Clean Air Zone vehicle eligibility or pay to access designated areas as with the forthcoming Ultra Low Emission Zone in London, which is geared towards Euro6 compliant diesel and Euro4 standard petrol vehicles.

BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney said: ‘We wholeheartedly support DEFRA setting out a framework for a standardised network of Clean Air Zones in England. This supports our recommendation for a nationwide network of low emission zones, and is preferable to local authorities taking matters into their own hands and creating different low emission zones and standards across the UK.

‘We remain confident that our members will provide fleets and drivers with cost-efficient, flexible access to vehicles that meet the criteria for operation in these zones.’