Low Emission Zones

1.Low Emission Zones are one of the most powerful tools that local authorities have for controlling vehicle emissions, but few have introduced them. Barriers include their perceived cost and a lack of guidance and support from Government. The case we made in our 2011 report for a national framework for LEZs remains as compelling today. A national framework could provide a template for creating LEZs with common core features including a national common certification scheme for vehicles meeting particular emissions standards, but allowing individual authorities to strike a locally relevant balance in tackling air quality while protecting local businesses. This would help reduce the cost of LEZs and make it easier for local authorities to administer them. Such an approach would also make it easier for vehicle fleet operators to meet the requirements of individual zones, and reduce the risk of heavily polluting vehicles simply being redeployed from one part of the country to another. A national framework, and individual local authorities' willingness to introduce LEZs based on it, could provide the Government with a more credible basis on which any EU infraction fines might be passed on to the local authorities. (Paragraph 20)

Diesel vehicles and vehicle standards

2.Diesel vehicles have increasingly been identified as the most significant driver of air pollution in our cities, exacerbated by the growth in their number as a result of favourable fiscal incentives compared with the taxes applied to petrol and petrol vehicles. Low emission zones provide a potentially effective means of restricting their use in pollution hotspots, but will need to be supplemented with other measures if such zones charge rather than ban vehicles. In such cases, LEZs can be complemented by a relatively less favourable fiscal regime for diesel and diesel vehicles. The original favourable tax treatment for diesel was the result of an understandable effort to adjust the vehicle mix in a way that would help limit greenhouse gas emissions. It is important however that fiscal policies are flexible enough to accommodate changing understanding. We are disappointed that Ministers have no plans for discussing these issues with the Treasury. (Paragraph 30)

3.New European emissions standards offer the prospect of significant cuts in pollution, but only if vehicles are designed to pass a test regime that is configured to reflect real world driving conditions. (Paragraph 36)

Ultra low emission vehicles

4.The Office for Low Emission Vehicles is encouraging a market in low emission vehicles in the face of past negative perceptions of such vehicles among consumers. The challenge for Government is in supporting alternative fuels in a way that does not run too far ahead of public appetite, and avoids 'picking winners'. (Paragraph 40)

Cleaner public transport

5.There is a lack of clarity over the degree of influence that local authorities have to ensure good air quality standards in local bus fleets. (Paragraph 47)


6.The air quality provision in the National Planning Policy Framework provides a basis for local authorities to address air pollution in development applications. Local authorities are able to include air quality provisions in their Local Plans provided they remain consistent with the NPPF. In practice, however, half of authorities have yet to complete their Local Plan, in which case the NPPF itself applies. The NPPF does not provide any guarantee of avoiding worse pollution as a result of development, but rather a means of considering all aspects of sustainability, balancing or trading-off sometimes conflicting economic, social and environmental objectives. Nevertheless, given the urgent need to make real progress in tackling unacceptable pollution, there is a need for the NPPF regime to move that balance more towards air quality protection. (Paragraph 60)

Support for local authorities and local air quality monitoring

7.There is some confusion over the boundary of local and central government responsibilities for air quality. That confusion is exacerbated by an unresolved debate over the localism agenda and how that impinges on action on air quality. On the one hand, Government provides air quality grants to local authorities from whom it requires proposals to be justified and explained, complicating the process. The NPPF circumscribes local discretion in a planning regime that might be used locally to focus on tackling pollution. But, on the other hand, it maintains that local authorities are responsible for air quality, could potentially reduce their air quality monitoring and reporting obligations, and has laid legislative groundwork for passing on EU infraction fines. It is not surprising that against that background some local authorities are confused about what they can do in this policy area, and find Government advice unclear. (Paragraph 73)

Public awareness and active travel

8.In undertaking our inquiry, and by conducting our own air quality monitoring, we have sought to draw greater public attention to the issue of air pollution. We challenge the Government to follow our lead by instituting a national public awareness campaign about these issues. (Paragraph 85)

A new Air Quality Strategy

9.In the past the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution would have helped to review air pollution and make recommendations for remedial action. The Sustainable Development Commission, similarly, might have been expected to address this important sustainability issue. Both no longer exist. (Paragraph 93)


10.This is now our third report on air quality in five years. Our main recommendations for the Government in 2010 and 2011 were not implemented, prompting our third Inquiry in the hope that this time the Government will take this as seriously as we do. It is unacceptable that a whole generation of people living in our towns and cities could have their health seriously impaired by air pollution above EU limits before the Government brings this public health problem under control. It should not need a European court case to focus Government attention on air pollution. (Paragraph 99)

11.Urgent change is needed in transport and planning policy to save lives and ensure that the UK meets European safety targets much sooner than the expected dates indicated by Defra. Air pollution is an invisible killer and a public health imperative. The challenge for policy makers is that no one single solution can solve this problem and no one single department has all the necessary levers. This change should start with the Government response to this report. A fresh approach is needed for the health challenge we face, coordinating action by local authorities and communities as well as the Government. (Paragraph 100)

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Prepared 16 December 2014