Pollution 'failure' by ministers
Ministers have "failed to face up" to air pollution problems, a Commons select committee chairman has said.
In a December 2014 report on air quality, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee called for a higher tax for diesel vehicles.
But publishing the Government's response to its report today, the committee's chairman Joan Walley said the Government had turned down this proposal.
In its response the Government said it had announced in 2013 that it had no plans to make significant changes to the structure of vehicle excise duty.
It added that since 2010, it had committed more than £2 billion for a wide variety of measures that support cleaner, greener transport and help reduce pollutant emissions.
Ms Walley (Lab: Stoke-on-Trent North) said: "This was an opportunity for the Government to pledge decisive action to cut the air pollution, thought to be killing nearly as many people in the UK as smoking.
"But coalition ministers have once again failed to face up to the problem and instead passed the buck to the next Government.
"We have been warning that urgent action is needed for the last five years and while this Government has accepted that there is a problem it has repeatedly failed to take the tough decisions necessary to sort it out."
She went on: "The Government has been ordered by the European Court to come up with an urgent plan to save lives by reducing the air pollution on British streets to safe levels.
"It should commit now to introduce a network of low emission zones, like the ones that have been successfully used in other countries to limit vehicle emissions in city and town centres."
Ms Walley said the Government had agreed with the thrust of many of the committee's recommendations but had rejected calls for further guidance guidance to protect schoolchildren in air pollution hotspots.
Environment group Sustrans said the Government's response was "half-hearted", and reducing reliance on motor vehicles was crucial.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said: "The automotive industry is fully committed to reducing emissions and improving air quality, and spends billions of pounds each year to achieve this."
A government spokesman said: "Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and we are investing heavily in measures across government to continue this, committing £2 billion since 2011 in green transport initiatives.
"We continue to support local authorities in identifying the best solutions for their area and sharing best practice. Government further supports these efforts through the Clean Vehicle Technology Fund and our Air Quality Grant Scheme.
"We have considered the Committee's recommendations carefully and are confident our approach to tackling air quality will build on this success and deliver further reductions to emissions."