Government plans to tackle air pollution across the country have been branded ‘woefully inadequate’ by leading campaigners.
Defra was forced to publish its draft air quality strategy this week by the High Court, despite attempts to delay it until after the general election.
It includes plans for a ‘targeted’ diesel scrappage scheme - but campaigners say it would only translate to about 9,000 out of two million diesel car owners being paid to swap their heavily polluting vehicles for electric ones.
The strategy was also lambasted for being short on detail and an attempt to push responsibility to deliver clean air to local councils, who will be expected to ‘develop new and creative solutions to reduce emissions as quickly as possible, while avoiding undue impact on the motorist’.
Oliver Hayes, of Friends of the Earth, said: “The government has produced a plan that is woefully inadequate, with a breath-taking lack of detail.
“If reports are true and these plans have been watered down because of the general election, ministers will have shown a shocking disregard for protecting people’s health.
“Every day of inaction on air pollution costs lives. This is an exceptionally poor plan. The government must not put politics above people.”
He said the best way to protect people from toxic fumes is to ensure Clean Air Zones are put in place in every location where high levels of pollution are recorded and implement a proper diesel scrappage scheme.
The Green Party has put air quality front and centre in its election campaign and accused the Tories of ‘standing by while Britain chokes’.
Co-leader Caroline Lucas said: “This feeble plan won’t go anywhere near far enough in tackling this public health emergency. We needed a huge investment in public transport, serious taxation changes and a new Clean Air Act - but none of these solutions are in the plan.”
Poor air is linked to 40,000 deaths every year and ministers are coming under increasing pressure to take drastic action - including from London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has made improving air quality one of his key priorities.
Other proposals in the draft strategy, which is now out for consultation, include:
- Additional funding and regulatory changes to improve uptake of electric vehicles, and increasing the number of charge points for them.
- New tests on vehicles to make sure manufacturers are sticking to regulations on emissions.
- Addressing problems on the roads which contribute to traffic congestion, including road humps and ‘poorly managed traffic lights’.
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom, said improving air quality was a key priority for the government.
“Our modern Industrial Strategy will ensure Global Britain is at the forefront of developing new, innovative and cleaner technologies,” she added.
“EU vehicle emissions regulations have failed to deliver anticipated reductions in air pollution – because some irresponsible diesel car makers avoided or cheated the emissions reductions they had agreed.
“As a result, the UK is currently one of 17 EU countries breaching annual nitrogen dioxide targets. In fact, the UK would have met pollution limits agreed in EU law had the measures intended to achieve them actually been effective.”