Government plans to ban petrol and diesel cars from being sold in the UK within the next 25 years have been branded ‘cynical’ by environmental campaigners.
Friends of the Earth say the measures, announced as part of the delayed Air Quality Plan, are nothing more than a “headline-grabbing move” which passes the responsibility on tackling the issue to local councils.
The charity wants Clean Air Zones, which prohibit polluting vehicles from highly-populated areas, to be implemented across the country, along with proper incentives to encourage drivers to scrap their diesel cars.
Pollution campaigner Oliver Hayes said: “Ministers know as well as anyone that Clean Air Zones are essential to give us breathable air fast. Their reported omission from the plans is a scandalous response to a health crisis that leads to 40,000 premature deaths annually.
“This is a cynical move by the government to grab the headlines by announcing changes for 23 years’ time and failing to enact measures which will curb pollution in UK towns and cities now. This is what the courts demanded and what the UK’s choking streets are crying out for.
“The announcement is weak on Clean Air Zones, weak on a scrappage scheme, and passes the buck to local authorities. Lives will continue to be cut short because the government hasn’t got the guts to restrict where the worst polluting vehicles can go.”
The government, which was forced to publish its draft strategy for tackling poor air quality by the High Court, says the issue is the biggest risk to public health in the UK and no petrol or diesel vehicles will be sold here after 2040.
Environment secretary Michael Gove will also announce a fund which will be made available to local authorities for them to decide how to tackle dirty air locally, insisting they retrofit buses, change road layouts, and improve features such as roundabouts and speed bumps in some of the worst affected areas.
But the FairFuelUK campaign, which lobbies for drivers, said the move would cost the economy “trillions” and adopting a “cliff-edge approach” is ill-thought-out.
Founder Howard Cox said: “We have practical proven ways to reduce emissions available now. Why has Michael Gove ignored these in favour of a Draconian policy that will hit small businesses and low-income families the hardest?
“The energy supply infrastructure and the National Grid will disintegrate in a breakneck move to nascent electric technology, which will guarantee to cripple the economy.”
Campaigners’ calls for Clean Air Zones were backed up by an assessment published alongside the government’s draft plans which suggested they were the most effective measures to tackle toxic nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from diesel vehicles.
But 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 to by the last Labour government on the basis they produced lower carbon emissions.