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Charging zones for dirtiest vehicles may be introduced to help tackle pollution

Ministers unveiled a £255m fund to help councils devise ways to improve air quality.

Local councils could bring in charging zones for the dirtiest vehicles, under plans published by the Government to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.

Ministers have unveiled a £255 million fund to help local authorities come up with ways to improve air quality, ranging from improving public transport and changing road layouts to charging for polluting vehicles if other measures are insufficient.

The final clean air plans unveiled by the Government, after it was ordered to do so by the courts, also set out plans to end the sale of all conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

With the air quality plans spelling an end to the sale of all new “conventional petrol and diesel cars” by 2040, hybrid vehicles could still be sold after that time.

However, the Government has previously said all new cars and vans would need to be zero emission vehicles by 2040 – which hybrids would not be – in order to meet its commitments to have a zero-carbon fleet by 2050.

Air pollution is linked to around 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, and transport also accounts for around a quarter of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

(PA Graphics)

The Government was ordered to produce new plans to tackle illegal levels of the harmful pollutant nitrogen dioxide after the courts agreed with environmental campaigners that a previous set of plans were insufficient to meet EU pollution limits.

Despite Government efforts to delay publication of the plans until after the general election, ministers were forced to set out the draft plans in May, with the final measures due by July 31.

Campaigners had previously demanded the final plans should include Government-funded and mandated clean air zones, with charges for the most polluting vehicles to enter areas with high air pollution, as well as a diesel scrappage scheme.

Their calls for charging zones were backed up by an assessment published alongside the draft plans which suggested they were the most effective measures to tackle nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from diesel vehicles.

(PA Graphics)

The Government acknowledges in the clean air plan that local authorities could include restrictions such as charging zones or moves to prevent certain vehicles using particular roads at particular times.

But it said councils should exhaust other options before opting to impose charging, and restrictions should be time-limited and lifted as soon as air pollution is within legal limits and there is no risk of future breaches.

Michael Gove said the UK was in a position of 'global leadership' in shaping new technology (Steve Parsons/PA)

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “Today’s plan sets out how we will work with local authorities to tackle the effects of roadside pollution caused by dirty diesels, in particular nitrogen dioxide.

“This is one element of the Government’s £3 billion programme to clean up the air and reduce vehicle emissions.”

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling added: “We are determined to deliver a green revolution in transport and reduce pollution in our towns and cities.

“We are taking bold action and want nearly every car and van on UK roads to be zero emission by 2050, which is why we’ve committed to investing more than £600 million in the development, manufacture and use of ultra-low emission vehicles by 2020.

“Today we commit £100 million towards new low emission buses and retrofitting older buses with cleaner engines.”

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