UK government launches car-friendly extension to air quality plan

by Jimi Beckwith, Autocar UK 22 May 2018


The UK Government has broadened its Clean Air Strategy beyond targeting motorists with a series of new measures to tackle air pollution blackspots by 2030.

The main particulates discussed in Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) secretary Michael Gove’s plans are domestic fuels such as wood and coal fires in the home, as well as ammonia emissions from farming. 

The only part that the strategy relates to drivers is the promise to collaborate with the automotive parts sector on setting new standards for brake and tyre particulates. The initial strategy, revealed in July last year, targeted emissions from road users, however. 

Discussion by lawmakers on air quality has tended to penalise drivers, such as the introduction of the 'toxin tax', while wider anti-diesel rhetoric has led to an increase in cars' CO2 output. In 2017, the public’s move away from diesels led to a 0.8% rise in average CO2 emissions of new cars — the first increase on record. Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) boss Mike Hawes has previously expressed concern about misinformation and heavily negative arguments against diesel amid the Government’s campaign on air quality. 

The automotive industry has already responded to the stricter WLTP testing procedure with the increasingly widespread fitment of particulate filters to petrol cars. Drivers’ groups have praised the latest measures for avoiding further demonisation of motorists. 

The UK government appears to be changing tack on car-related air quality issues, with business secretary Greg Clark admitting last week that diesel cars are important in meeting ever more stringent CO2 targets. 

With no mention of car emissions, Gove said during the announcement of the new measures: “Government cannot act alone in tackling air pollution. Our strategy sets out how we will work with businesses, farmers, industry and households to develop innovative new solutions to reduce emissions. It also highlights how we can all take action and play an important role in cleaning up our air.”

The move comes a day after Prime Minister Theresa May asserted her ambition for the UK to be at the forefront of “a 21st-century transport revolution”, with zero-emissions cars at the top of the agenda. 

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