Cash payments to persuade drivers who live in pollution hotspots to give up their diesel cars may be part of a new scrappage scheme under the government’s air quality plans, due to be published this week.
Downing Street has been mulling the idea after being forced to produce a new air quality plan after a court ruling, which said existing proposals to meet EU-mandated air quality limits were insufficient.
Under the plans, the scrappage scheme could encourage drivers to give up their diesel cars if they live in towns or cities with particularly acute pollution problems. There had been reservations about the idea of a scrappage scheme over fears it would be giving handouts to wealthy diesel owners who want to buy a new car.
However, the idea of a tailored scheme has been supported by Neil Parish, chair of the Commons environment committee, who will use a debate on Wednesday to raise the proposal.
He will say that “households should not just be able to trade in multiple diesels for a cash subsidy”, and argue that the government “should particularly consider targeting a scrappage scheme at poorer households or those earning less than 60% of the median UK household income”.
“If the government earmarked £500m for this scheme, it would take nearly 10% of the 5m dirtiest diesels off our roads. Limiting the scheme to these hotspots could potentially take as many as half of these dirtiest diesels out of these pollution hotspots.”
A poll by the AA in February found that just over two-thirds of drivers would support a diesel scrappage scheme, with 10% opposed. Other measures could include more low-emission zones, or “toxin taxes”, on diesel vehicles driving in pollution hotspots.
Experts have been growing increasingly concerned about the impact of diesel fuel on nitrogen oxide levels, with worries heightened by the Volkswagen scandal, when it emerged that cars emitted more toxic fumes on the road than had been apparent in laboratory tests.
A subsequent Department for Transport investigation found that 37 top-selling diesel cars exceeded the legal limit required for laboratory pollution tests when driven for 90 minutes on normal roads.
Consumers had been urged to switch away from petrol cars under the last Labour government, which has made ministers anxious not to penalise those who bought diesel cars.
Theresa May has hinted she is prepared to take some action in relation to diesel cars, saying last month that decisions were yet to be finalised.
“But I’m very conscious of the fact that past governments have encouraged people to buy diesel cars and we need to take that into account when we’re looking at what we do in the future,” the prime minister said.