Government ponders network of low-emission zones

2nd March 2015

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The most polluting vehicles would be banned from parts of the road network under plans being considered by the government to establish a national network of low emission zones, says the environment department (Defra).

The cross-party parliamentary environmental audit committee had recommended establishing a network in its report on air quality, which was published in December. The MPs said low-emission zones should all have common metrics and vehicles should be certified in a national scheme.

This was the second time the committee had made such a recommendation, but the government has consistently rejected such calls. Its response to the latest report reiterates its previous argument that low- emission zones are the responsibility of local authorities.

But it also states: “All measures are currently being investigated further to ensure an effective package of measures to tackle air pollution is developed. The government is currently carrying out a review in order to update its air quality plans. The use of both individual low-emission zones and a national approach will form part of the review.”

Defra also did not rule out a national diesel scrappage scheme or engine retrofit scheme, another of the committee’s recommendations: “There are no current plans for a national diesel scrappage or engine retrofit scheme.

“But as part of revising our national air quality plans by the end of 2015, all feasible measures including those recommended by the committee are currently being investigated further to ensure an effective package of measures is developed to deliver compliance in the shortest possible time.”

The government rejected a call by the committee to strengthen planning policy on air pollution, in particular, to make it impossible to build new schools, care homes or health clinics near existing air pollution hotspots.

Policy in the national planning policy framework (NPPF) is sufficiently strict to allow local authorities to decide what is appropriate in their area, and building regulations can be used to minimise external pollution entering buildings, it said.

Chair of the committee Joan Walley said: “It remains unacceptable that a whole generation of children growing up in our polluted cities will have their health and development impaired by the illegal levels of air pollution.

“The government and local authorities should be factoring air quality into all planning and road building decisions,” she said.

Last week, the communities and local government department published a response to a separate report from MPs on the operation of the NPPF. It has rejected several recommendations to strengthen the NPPF in relation to the environment including:

  • to stress to the Planning Inspectorate and local authorities that they should give equal weight to environment, economy and society in decision making, following concerns that the environment was being given lower priority; and
  • to allow development in ancient woodland only in “exceptional circumstances”.

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