Anger over scrapped EST grants for emissions reduction

Industry bodies and campaign groups have reacted with anger to the decision by Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman to scrap four clean transport grant programmes.

The schemes – two of which were intended to increase fuel efficiency and two of which were intended to reduce air quality pollutants – were set up to address pollution issues, particularly particulate and NOx emissions, arising from fleets of existing vehicles built to lower environmental standards than now, which will continue to operate for many years.

However, Minister Ladyman said he was scrapping the four grant programmes available through the Energy Savings Trust (EST) – Low Carbon Car, Low Carbon Bus, Air Quality Retrofit and Enhanced Environmental Vehicle – on the grounds that, “if implemented, they would not achieve market transformation or provide value for money,” as EU state aid rules limited the level of grant to only 30-40% of additional costs.

Mike Galey, marketing director of Eminox and chairman of the EIC Transport Working Group, told edie that the scrapping of grants contradicted all the messages that had come from Government over the past year in which EIC members had been told that the programmes would proceed.

In a letter to the Minister, the EIC wrote: “This about-turn undermines the UK environmental technology sector which requires clear signals from Government on the direction of policy in order to invest in innovative environmental technologies.”

The group fears that the grant cuts will lead to investment in future technologies moving abroad to countries more committed to consistent policies, claims Mr Galey.

Britain already lags behind Belgium, Holland, France and even America in the incentives it offers for low-emission transport.

Galey said that sales of emission reduction equipment in the UK were bound to take a hit as a result of the announcements, while a spokesperson for Dinex, a company that manufactures equipment to reduce exhaust emissions, said sales of particulate traps for large vehicles had plummeted from a high of around 50-60 per week to just one or two units per week in Britain.

The Dinex spokesperson said that there was now little or no interest from commercial truck firms.

“The problem is that they’ve got used to receiving the grants and therefore getting the full system so cheaply. So, now they’re only fitting them if they really have to – in a restricted area like London’s LEZ for example.”

Part of the problem, industry insiders say, is that Government sees schemes such as LEZs as local, not national, solutions and is unwilling therefore to provide funds through central government.

There were fears among some that the grant cuts could have implications for the London LEZ as many fleets would have been looking for some assistance with meeting the restrictions.

However, more and more cities and urban regions are now looking at introducing some form of LEZ or local scheme to improve air-quality and many feel that, as the National Air Quality Strategy is so lacking in policy measures, these could provide the inspiration for fleet operators to start fitting the particulate traps again.

Peter Kukla, Managing Director of Per-Tec Ltd, manufacturers of electro-static particulate traps, told edie it was always going to be difficult for the Government to fund enough vehicles to impact the problem.

“I strongly feel it could have been handled better but we have to move on. At Per-Tec we have focused on two main things: reducing the cost in order to compete with or exceed the 30% reduction price the EST support gave; and communicating directly with local government and the passenger transport executives in the North-West to make sure they are fully aware of what we can do,” he said.

“If the Government isn’t going to legislate nationally for strict air quality standards through road tax programmes to incentivise or penalise operators then it is up to local authorities to do so. I would encourage them to go even further than the London LEZ proposals and include light duty commercial vehicles.

“These are now clearly the biggest inner-city offenders in terms of air quality and particulate emissions through sheer traffic volume alone. We have the technology so its time we tackled it.”

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