The Government’s new air quality plan says it will end the sale of all "conventional petrol and diesel cars" by 2040.
Hybrid cars, which combine a petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor, will still be permitted, the Government has confirmed, despite some initial confusion at the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).
It will also provide a £255 million package to help councils tackle emissions from diesel vehicles, as part of a £3 billion package of spending on air quality.
However, the Government says that, wanting to maintain a tight control on public spending, measures to improve air quality will be funded through changes to the tax treatment for new diesel vehicles, or through reprioritisation within existing departmental budgets. Further details on changes to the tax regime will be announced later in the year in the budget.
The courts had ordered the Defra to produce a new air quality plan after judges agreed with environmental campaigners that previous plans were insufficient to meet EU pollution limits.
The air quality plan puts the burden on local authorities to tackle the causes of air pollution, with the Government saying they should consider a wide range of "innovative options", exploring new technologies so that they can deliver reduced emissions in a way that best meets the needs of their communities and local businesses.
It continues: "Their plans could include a wide range of measures such as: changing road layouts at congestion and air pollution pinch points; encouraging public and private uptake of ULEVs; using innovative retrofitting technologies and new fuels; and, encouraging the use of public transport."
However, if these measures are not sufficient, local plans could include access restrictions on vehicles, such as charging zones or measures to prevent certain vehicles using particular roads at particular times, it says.
The plan says that local authorities should bear in mind such access restrictions would only be necessary for a "limited period" and should be lifted once legal compliance is achieved and there is no risk of legal limits being breached again.
Local authorities will need to set out their initial plans eight months from now, by the end of March 2018. These will be followed by final plans by the end of December 2018.
The Government says it will work with local authorities and others to consider how to help minimise the impact of such measures on local businesses, residents and those travelling into towns and cities to work where such action is necessary; and will issue a further consultation in autumn to aid development and assessment of options.
The measures considered in that consultation will include options to support motorists: in particular private car drivers on lower incomes, or those who may have to switch to a cleaner vehicle. Options considered could include retrofitting, subsidised car club membership, exemptions and discounts from any restrictions, permit schemes for vans or concessionary bus travel.
A targeted scrappage scheme will also be considered in this consultation focussing on certain groups of drivers who most need support (such as those on lower incomes or those living in the immediate vicinity of a Clean Air Zone) and providing an incentive to switch to a cleaner vehicle.
It said: "A number of issues remain with such mitigation options and in particular with scrappage schemes – analysis of previous schemes has shown poor value for the taxpayer and that they are open to a degree of fraud."
Mike Hawes chief executive of industry group the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), told Fleet News that the there was nothing new in the Government's ambition for all new cars and vans to be zero emission by 2040.
“Industry is working with government to ensure that the right consumer incentives, policies, and infrastructure is in place to drive growth in the still very early market for ULEVs in the UK,” he said. “However, much depends on the cost of these new technologies and how willing consumers are to adopt battery, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen cars.
“Currently demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles is growing but still at a very low level as consumer have concern over affordability, range and charging points.
“Outright bans risk undermining the current market for new cars and our sector which supports over 800,000 jobs across the UK so the industry instead wants a positive approach which gives consumers incentives to purchase these cars.
“We could undermine the UK’s successful automotive sector if we don’t allow enough time for the industry to adjust."
Van drivers are also set to be given the right to use heavier vehicles if they are electric or gas-powered. Furthermore, manufacturers found to be using devices on their vehicles to cheat emissions tests could face criminal and civil charges, with fines of up to £50,000 for every device installed, under proposed new laws.
Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association which represents commercial vehicle and franchised car retailers across the UK, argues that Euro 6 diesel cars should not be penalised. In 2016, over half a million new diesel vehicles were sold.
She said: “The Government needs to ensure that the correct measures are in place in areas where pollution is at its highest and also ensure that these are not detrimental to the local economy.
“It is also important that there is investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, particularly charging points. There is pressure from local authorities on private business to invest in the local grid infrastructure, to ensure that the UK electric provisions can cope with the increase in electricity used for charging these vehicles."
Peter Millichap, UK director of marketing at Teletrac Navman, told Fleet News that he welcomed any measures which help combat pollution and improve air quality. However, he added: "It raises many questions in terms of how it will be implemented.
"For example, will we have the infrastructure to cater for all UK road users to drive electric vehicles in just 23 years? This will mean having to transition from fuel stations to public charging points overtime. Whilst this would be a significant achievement and very logically progressive, the practicalities and costs of implementing this will be in the billions."
David Brennan, CEO at Nexus Vehicle Rental, concluded: “The shift to electric vehicles and hybrids is already happening but this is a costly, long transition period and petrol and diesel engines will continue to dominate. We need to question if setting a deadline to remove petrol and diesel vehicles is the wisest course of action to take.
“Rather than to ban new petrol and diesel vehicles, would it not make more sense to phase out older, less fuel efficient cars and vans first? Manufacturing processes are making vehicles cleaner and we shouldn’t prevent progress from being made.”