Boris Johnson has said his plan to cut air pollution by paying diesel car owners up to £2,000 each to switch to cleaner models would cost as much as £300m. The scheme would mean taking more than 150,000 polluting models off London’s roads. 

Giving evidence to MPs on Wednesday on his plans to tackle air pollution in London just months after it was revealed Oxford Street has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), the mayor said that he felt very sorry for people who had been seduced into buying diesel cars in the belief that they were more environmentally friendly.

Diesel vehicles are particularly bad for the emission of tiny particles of dust, PM2.5s and PM10s, named after their diameter in microns, which have been linked to thousands of premature deaths. Diesel cars have been promoted as a low carbon and cheap-to-run alternative to petrol, and now make up half of the new car market.

Johnson told the environmental audit committee: “You could do a diesel scrappage scheme that would stimulate the market for cleaner vehicles. I think we’re saying it should be £1-2,000 for people who have been seduced into buying a diesel vehicle and I feel very sorry for them.

“Everyone should be very clear this has been a massive failure of policy, millions were told they were doing the right thing, the environmentally-friendly thing, by buying a diesel. They now feel very hacked off now they’re told they are more polluting.” He said the scheme would cost around £300m in total implying that he plans to take between 150,000 and 300,000 cars off the road.

The mayor’s office released further details of his proposed national diesel scrappage scheme, saying the government should pay a £1-2,000 grant to motorists of the “most polluting diesels” that are more than 12 months old.

An estimated 4,300 people a year die prematurely as a result of bad air in London, and the capital, along with much of southern England and Wales,was hit by a dramatic pollution episode in the spring during which vulnerable people were warned to stay indoors.

Johnson said that for the UK to comply with European laws on air pollution, which it has been in breach of since 2010, London would “need more financial support” from central government. “There are great things we could do with low carbon vehicles, with stimulating the market for low carbon vehicles,” he said. London is not expected to meet the EU standards on NO2 pollution until 2030.

Asked why he had “laughably” missed targets he laid out in 2009 to encourage the take-up of electric cars, he agreed he had missed a target of 25,000 electric car chargers by 2015, with 1,400 installed instead, but blamed the market.

“The reality is the market has not developed in the way we had hoped … They are still priced pretty uncompetitively. It’s a great shame they’re not thought of as reliable, because of range anxiety [over the limited distance drivers can expect from one battery charge].”

He added: “There is no market in any big city in Europe that has made the leap to electric as successfully as we’d like to have seen. It does depend on an emotional psychological tipping point in favour of electric vehicles.”

Adam Vaughan, the Guardian

This article first appeared on the Guardian 

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