The ban on petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 is welcome but have they thought it through?

31 July 2017

Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, has hailed a 'step forward' on air pollution as the Government announce a ban on new diesels and petrol vehicles from 2040, but said their plan 'doesn't go nearly far enough'.

Ms Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion, is calling for ministers to invest in public transport, expand clean air zones and fund a diesel scrappage scheme.

Caroline Lucas said:

“This is a step forward from the Government – and follows years of campaigning on the issue from the Green Party and others. We know that the fumes from cars and lorries are ending thousands of lives prematurely each year, and it's good to see the Government making this move which will protect people's health and boost a key industry of the future. Though a ban by 2040 is welcome, it doesn’t go nearly far enough or fast enough. We also need action that tackles this health emergency in the coming months and years. Such action must include expanded clean air zones and a fully funded diesel scrappage scheme.

“It’s crucial that scrapping diesel doesn’t simply shift people into other types of car – instead we should use this opportunity to revamp our towns and cities with investment in walking and cycling, and by ensuring that public transport is affordable and reliable.”

But the government's decision to make councils responsible for implementing Clean Air Zones looks more like a a case of passing the buck instead of taking concerted and properly funded national action. In fact, locally councils like Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council and Kent County Council (the transport authority for Kent) will find it difficult to implement measures to combat poor air quality. Pollution levels have been monitored through Air Quality Monitoring Areas (AQMAs) since 1997 but nothing has been done to tackle the problem. In fact, if anything, TMBC and KCC haves contributed to making it worse.

Chair of Tonbridge and Malling Green Party, Howard Porter, comments:

“We desperately need to improve air quality throughout the borough and to tackle traffic congestion and poor public transport. We need to do all this now, not in 23 years time but it is difficult to have any confidence in the ability of TMBC and KCC to think long term. For instance, the decision to scrap the Shipborne Road/London Road/Cannon Lane link road project a few years ago, which would have enabled the pedestrianisation of the High Street in Tonbridge, was a grave error which condemns the High Street to congestion as there is now no really satisfactory alternative route.”

However, there are steps that can be taken. Here are just a few of our initial suggestions:

  • Work with the bus companies to introduce low emission vehicles and make public transport more attractive and cheaper,
  • Start installing electric car charging points now,
  • Do much more to encourage cycling and walking for short journeys,
  • Promote rail travel and, in particular, the Medway Valley Line which connects Tonbridge to the Medway Towns, Maidstone and the north of the borough with more frequent direct trains,
  • Make sure there is a pull-in for buses on Tonbridge High Street,
  • Promote car sharing and active transport, make sure fewer children travel to school by car,
  • Introduce a borough-wide Zip Car type scheme,
  • Introduce living walls to absorb pollution at key points,
  • Reroute satnav away from Tonbridge High Street and other AQMAs.

It will be extremely challenging to build the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles, not to mention the additional generation capacity they will need, but it needs to be done and, as long as the government and local authorities don’t flip flop on the issue, it can be achieved. But we also need a modal shift in transport, especially in areas like west Kent which is so heavily car dependent. Investing in public transport is an absolute necessity, not building yet more infrastructure to support cars like the Lower Thames Crossing which will just exacerbate the already unsustainable levels of congestion.

Reaffirming Caroline Lucas's statement, we should also make sure that people who bought diesel cars because they were told they were the most environmentally friendly are not now made to pay for being misled. The car makers like VW are responsible for fooling both the public and regulators and should be made to pay for their lies, not people who tried to do the right thing.