U.K. Needs More Clean-Air Zones to Prevent Deaths, Lawmakers Say

  • Congestion-charging powers urged for cities across country
  • Committee seeks diesel scrappage program to cut pollution

The U.K. must strengthen the powers of cities to charge vehicles for using the roads in a bid to clean up dangerous levels of air pollution nationwide, a panel of lawmakers said.

Local authorities from Plymouth in southwest England to Aberdeen in northeast Scotland should be able to tackle airborne pollutants in a way that’s tailor-made to their communities, according to a report on Wednesday from Parliament’s Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee. The lawmakers also urged the government to introduce a diesel scrappage program for the most polluting vehicles.

“The zones need to deliver local solutions to local problems,” Committee Chairman Neil Parish, from the governing Conservative Party, said in a statement. Proposed “one-size-fits-all” clean-air zones for only five cities will set unacceptably rigid rules, he said.

The U.K. is struggling to clean up its air and faces legal action demanding it accelerate plans to rein in dangerous pollutants. A report in February by the Royal College of Physicians found that about 40,000 people die a year in the U.K. because of exposure to outdoor air pollution, while the most recent data from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs show 38 out of 43 monitoring areas nationwide fail to comply with European Union limits.

London introduced congestion charging in the city center in 2003, and Defra is extending similar powers to Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton. The committee said in its report that the government should go further and strengthen the powers for all communities to bring in levies.

‘Greater Flexibility’

“Dozens of areas elsewhere in England exceed EU limits so legislation must give charging powers to councils for use by any community which supports the approach,” the panel said, “The government must also devolve to councils greater flexibility over how they can use powers over traffic movement and new development.”

The pollution problem is made tougher to tackle by the growth in popularity of diesel-fueled vehicles, which a government study last week found are six times more polluting on the roads than they’re allowed to be in laboratory tests.

“Government funding for new refueling infrastructure and grants to help buy cleaner vehicles such as electric or hybrid cars is welcome,” Parish said. “But more action is needed if we are to get older, more polluting diesel vehicles off the road quickly.”

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