The Government should consider a diesel scrappage scheme and ensure that vehicle excise duty (VED) changes tackle NO2 pollution as well as CO2 to encourage drivers to move away from polluting diesel vehicles, says the Environmental Audit Committee.
Speaking ahead of the Government's Spending Review, Huw Irranca-Davies MP, chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “Tens of thousands of premature deaths are being caused in the UK every year by illegal levels of air pollution on our roads.
"Despite mounting evidence of the damage diesel fumes do to human health, changes to VED announced in this year’s Budget maintained the focus only on CO2 emissions.
"This was a missed opportunity to also incentivise vehicles which emit less NO2.
"The Chancellor has the chance to strike a better balance on this next week.
"The Treasury must use VED to create long-term incentives for drivers to buy cleaner hybrid and electric cars that minimise both CO2 and harmful pollutants.
"Introducing a national diesel scrappage scheme could also provide a short-cut to cleaning up the air in our cities.”
The committee welcomed the proposal to create a national framework of Clean Air Zones.
However, the Committee warns that the power for individual Local Authorities to decide the access rules for particular vehicles could lead to confusing signals being sent to drivers across the country.
Irranca-Davies added: “We are very pleased that the Government has finally accepted the Environmental Audit Committee’s calls for a national framework of Clean Air Zones.
"Defra is right to say that local authorities will have a better understanding of “the issues on the ground”. However, it will be important to avoid sending out conflicting signals to drivers across the country.
"The Government needs to bear this in mind when devising the Clean Air Zones framework.”
The Committee also raised concerns about the Government transferring responsibility on air quality to local authorities when they are facing reductions in funding.
Irranca-Davies added: “We are concerned that central government is trying to shift responsibility for meeting air quality targets to local authorities at a time when they are facing severe funding cuts.
"The Government has a duty to ensure that Local Authorities have the financial means at their disposal to adequately implement air quality action plans.”