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Government's pollution plans dismissed as 'weak'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

5th May 2017 – Government plans to improve air quality in the UK are being condemned as weak, feeble and half-baked.

Proposals in a long awaited consultation paper from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) make no firm commitment to an anticipated 'scrappage' scheme to get the most polluting vehicles, including older diesels, off UK roads.

Legal challenge

Ministers tried to delay publication, arguing that making them public would breach "purdah" rules in the run up to the general election. However, following a legal challenge by environmental lawyers ClientEarth, the High Court ordered the draft plans to be published before polling day on 8th June

The judge, Mr Justice Garnham, ruled that "purdah does not mean it is not possible to publish a plan". He said: "There is a powerful case, in my judgment, that there are here exceptional circumstances which make the publication of the draft plan and the commencement of the consultation on it essential."

The consultation document suggests that local authorities should be responsible for taking action to cut pollution levels. More clean air zones, retrofitting older vehicles with anti-pollution devices and encouraging cycling and walking are among the measures being considered.

'Targeted' scrappage

The clean air proposals include the possibility of what's being called a "targeted" scrappage scheme for drivers of older diesel and petrol engines. A technical report accompanying the main proposals, estimates that around 9,000 diesel and 6,000 petrol vehicles might be scrapped and replaced with electric vehicles during a 1-year period.

A grant level of £8,000 per vehicle has been assumed, based on a similar scheme in France.

The consultation closes on the 15th June.

'Much weaker than hoped'

James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEarth, says the plan "looks much weaker than we had hoped for".

He adds: "The court ordered the government to take this public health issue seriously and while the government says that pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health, we will still be faced with illegal air quality for years to come under these proposals.

"The government has also failed to commit to a diesel scrappage scheme and this is a crucial element of the range of measures needed to persuade motorists to move to cleaner vehicles."

Greenpeace described the proposals as "half baked". Its chief scientist in the UK, Dr Doug Parr, says in a statement: "The astonishing thing is that the government's own plan accepts that diesel is at the root of the problem, and that phasing it out is the most effective solution. Yet the plan offers no real action to end the era of dodgy diesel. A plan to help drivers swap polluting diesel for electric cars would be a good idea, but the government's proposal lacks scale and detail.

"What's worse, the government is not just passing the buck to local authorities, it's also tying one hand behind their backs by making it hard to phase out polluting cars and giving no new funds for delivery."

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