While the Labour Government has tried unsuccessfully to reduce traffic and air pollution by increasing the price of conventional fuels, the Conservatives’ proposed policies concentrate on the reduction of air pollution from cars by introducing tax incentives intended to encourage drivers to switch to cleaner fuels and technology.

The Conservatives’ “blue-green” tax strategy would cut taxes for motorists who chose vehicles that produce low emissions. The Conservatives say that air pollution is falling even though traffic levels continue to rise, mainly because new cars are significantly less polluting than old ones.

Meanwhile, the Labour Government has raised petrol prices but traffic on motorways and major roads has increased by almost 10 percent since Labour came to power, the Conservatives say. The party denounces Labour policies as “anti-car”, intended to raise funds for the government rather to protect the environment.

The Conservative policies would:

  • cut taxes on cleaner fuels. Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) would be reduced from 11p/litre to the EU recommended minimum rate of 7p/litre. Biodiesel would be priced at the same rate as for road fuel gases rather than at the same rate for conventional diesel as it is at present. The differential between Clean/Ultra Low Sulphur and conventional diesel would be reduced to the same differential between leaded and unleaded petrol
  • introduce discounts for clean fuelled cars in order to increase the numbers on the road. Tax discounts would be graded into Zero Emission Cars (solar, electric and fuel-cell cars); Very Low Emission Cars (LPG and CNG); and Low Emission Cars (hybrid engines)
  • grade Vehicle Excise Duty according to the car’s compliance with emission standards, rather than according to engine size (see related story)

The package of policies does not include recommendations to reduce the price of conventional fuels from the levels set by Chancellor Gordon Brown. “We will not increase the price of petrol by more than inflation,” Sheridan Westlake, a Conservative Party policy researcher told edie. “We would certainly consider how to cut the tax on motorists and have already outlined policies to reduce Vehicle Excise Duty for hauliers” (see related story).

The Conservative Party has vigorously opposed increases in Vehicle Excise Duty for haulage companies. The Road Haulage Industry improvement measures published by the Conservatives last year include the adoption of a Road Infrastructure Toll on foreign hauliers; the end to automatic annual increases in fuel duty; the removal of ” unnecessary” burdens on the industry and the introduction of higher safety standards for foreign hauliers.

The new proposals on cars make the point that HGVs and buses contribute 37 times more particulate air pollution than cars and state that the cost of travelling should reflect the costs of air pollution. Westlake told edie that the next package of proposals will deal with measures “to clean up buses and HGVs, maybe through incentives and not through taxation.”

Roger Higman, Senior Transport Campaigner at Friends of the Earth told edie that he welcomes the Conservative proposals, but that they need further work: “The spirit of what the Conservatives is proposing is good, but the proposals are not very well worked through. The introduction of road fuel gases is hampered by lack of infrastructure – the oil companies won’t introduce the fuels unless the vehicles exist to use them. In addition, the oil companies are moving towards 100 percent production of low sulphur diesel for the UK market, so there’s not much point introducing incentives if consumers won’t have a choice anyway. Lastly, recent research published by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) shows that varying Vehicle Excise Duty by emissions hurts poor road users because they are forced to buy older cars. That’s why the Government decided to use engine size as a proxy for carbon dioxide emissions, as they felt it was not possible to influence toxic emissions through road tax.”

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