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Raise car fuel prices to fight air pollution, says right-wing thinktank

 The freeze on fuel duty has saved motorists about £6bn since 2010

A report calls for VAT to be abolished on electric cars and for citizens to be able to report idling vehicles and receive a share of fines levied. It also proposes that the speed limit in all urban areas is cut from 30mph to 20mph and that local authorities should be able to profit from pollution charging schemes to fund clean-air projects.

Most urban areas in the UK register illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution, which mainly comes from vehicles. But while Britain’s overall particulate levels are legal, they are above World Health Organization guidelines, which Bright Blue said should be the targets adopted by the UK. Polling for the thinktank showed 70% of people in the UK were concerned about the health impact of air pollution and wanted government action.

Dirty air is believed to cause 40,000 early deaths every year in the UK, and in 2016 a committee of MPs called the problem a “public health emergency”. The damage to lungs and hearts is well established but the latest research shows air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the body.

Government plans to cut NO2 pollution have been declared illegally poor by the high court on three occasions and the former Environment Secretary Michael Gove recently said the UK had “failed to properly live up to our obligations to improve air quality”.

Bright Blue’s chief executive Ryan Shorthouse said: “The evidence of the scale and impact of air pollution is growing and alarming. As the UK leaves the EU, there is a need and an opportunity to improve legislation, policies and accountability around air quality. Despite the rhetoric from the government, enough is not being done to tackle NO2.”

The Bright Blue report said the freeze on fuel duty rises, in place since 2010, should end. The freeze has saved motorists about £6bn but is estimated to have increased traffic by 4%, and therefore pollution as well. Diesel, which produces most NO2, should have an additional tax on top, according to the report.

Diesel cars are currently charged more vehicle excise duty than petrol cars only in their first year, but the difference should be permanent, Bright Blue said. It added that VAT should not be charged on electric cars to help restore their attractiveness after recent cuts in subsidies.

Perhaps the most striking recommendation is that citizens should be able to report idling vehicles and share the fine with authorities. In New York City, citizens get 25% of fines levied on buses or trucks caught idling for more than a minute outside schools or three minutes elsewhere. The fines range from $100 to $2,000 (£83 to £1,650) and Bright Blue said the policy in the UK should be expanded to include cars.

Some local authorities have reduced the speed limit in urban areas to 20mph to reduce injuries and deaths from road accidents. But Bright Blue said the limit should be implemented in all urban areas, with research indicating it could cut NO2 pollution by 25-32%.

Charging polluting vehicles to enter urban centres, as in London, is a highly effective way of cutting pollution. Bright Blue said local authorities should be allowed to make “reasonable profits” from such clean air zones to fund charging points for electric vehicles, local scrappage schemes for old cars and public transport.

Simon Alcock from ClientEarth, the environmental law firm that defeated UK ministers in court, said: “This report is hugely welcome and shows the public want greater ambition from the government on air pollution. The government needs to make WHO guidelines legally binding by 2030, help people – especially those on low incomes – move to cleaner forms of transport and start treating air pollution in this country as the public health crisis and consumer scandal that it is.”

A government spokesman said: “We know the impact air pollution has on communities around the UK, which is why we are stepping up the pace and taking urgent action to improve air quality. Our £3.5bn Clean Air Strategy – praised by the World Health Organization as ‘an example for the rest of the world to follow’ – is the most ambitious air quality strategy in a generation.”

Shorthouse said: “We are a pro-market thinktank, but sometimes there are inefficiencies and inequities that arise in markets and therefore good government regulation and spending is needed. It is a conservative thing to tax things that have negative effects on people and reduce the tax burden on things that are desirable.”

Damian Carrington 

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network 

© Faversham House Ltd 2022 edie news articles may be copied or forwarded for individual use only. No other reproduction or distribution is permitted without prior written consent.

Comments (3)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    Mr Shorthouse, I note from linkedin, graduated in history and politics, not godd base from which to make technical or scientific judgements,

    That 40,000 deaths per year is a complete misunderstanding of anepldemlologocal term equivalent lives . This is a convenient wat to total the length of life span lost by evety member of the population, compressed into cmplete lifespans. The reduction of lifespan of every individual is only days, except for very sensitive people.

    And please note this is for all sources pollution, domestic and industrial.

    It is high time that thispiece of nonsense was put to bed. In fact we have generally very godd air, look at 1950s London.

    Richard Phillips

  2. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Instead of hitting us with the tax stick all the bloody time how about making the alternatives so economically attractive that it makes no sense to even own a car in a major conurbation let alone drive one? Better and more frequent public transport that is fully integrated and goes to where people live, work and shop for instance. Better infrastructure to encourage cycling including proper segregated cycle ways and secure storage (possibly with changing facilities). Changing the focus in traffic management away from massive, luxury SUVs to smaller, cleaner, nimbler vehicles (make it so damn difficult to drive or park an SUV in a town).

    For many in rural areas there is no alternative to the private car but in cities there is no argument for a car. Don’t penalise the country dweller because the townie is "crapping in his own backyard

  3. Richard Phillips says:

    Righton, Kieron. In the 1950s I lived in Ilford, London, but would not consider car ownership there today. Car hire forout of town journeys. Living now in avillage with sparse bus services, a car is essential.

    Cycle, as an oldy, insane!!!

    And can any reader explain the physical chemistry behind thr climate change emergency. What emergency? What time scale?

    All the panic is promoted in support of renewables and a plethora of business operations. It all comes down tomoney, in the end!!

    Richard Phillips

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