Committee urges stronger air quality focus

Department for Transport (DfT) must do more to tackle air quality and encourage faster uptake of ultra low emission vehicles, the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee has warned.

A new report from the committee highlights that polluted towns and cities are expected to hit 2010 air quality targets 10 years late – in 2020. It adds that uptake of ultra low emission vehicles is currently too low to meet the UK’s climate change targets.

“We need 9% of all new cars to be ultra low emission vehicles by 2020 if we're going to meet our climate change targets at the lowest cost to the public,” said committee chair Mary Creagh.

Government is urged to step up efforts to hit this target, with suggested measures including helping workplaces invest in charging points and introducing a national grant scheme for electric and low emission taxis.

Renewable Energy Association’s head of renewable transport Clare Wenner commented: "Sustainable transport represents a huge opportunity for UK plc not only in promoting our new electric vehicle industry but also in demonstrating the value of our low carbon fuels, which are now made mostly from waste.

"These industries are innovative, eager, and need Government to play a more positive role in supporting them to the benefits of consumers and the economy."

The committee’s report also calls on the DfT to work with the Treasury and other Government departments to ensure the benefits of clean air are properly costed in transport investment decisions.

"Transport authorities throughout England told us they have had problems with getting sustainable transport projects off the ground, because the DfT places more importance on economic benefits rather than the health benefits of improving air quality," said Mary Creagh. Furthermore the committee urges the DfT to do more to assess the combined environmental impact of all its transport projects.

Campaign for Better Transport sustainable transport campaigner Bridget Fox said: "The report shows that the Government is not doing enough to decarbonise transport and avoid building damaging infrastructure projects.

"Stronger action to clean up polluting vehicles is welcome but ultimately the answer lies in reducing car dependency, getting more freight onto rail and investing in good quality public transport alternatives."

A DfT spokesperson said: "We are committed to improving air quality and reducing vehicle emissions. We welcome the Environmental Audit Committee’s report and will consider the recommendations and respond in due course."