Clean Air Zones - a new debate is needed

reducing vehicle emissions from car exhausts

I am resisting talking about Brexit as a lot more needs to play out but want to take everyone back to the earlier announcement about the Government's Clean Air Strategy at the beginning of the week. This is something close to my heart.


 It's a step forward that we have a commitment to the ending of sales of conventional diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040, along new powers for councils to tackle inefficient heating appliances as well as other sources of particulate matter.  Whilst overtaken by Brexit I don't think it was given the air time it deserved. The Jeremy Vine show, focused on the impact of scented candles.


Whilst the strategy talks about longer term ambitions it is relatively quiet about the contentious issues of clean air zones, which many councils are currently struggling with. In passing the baton to local Government to implement CAZ's, Westminster has created a situation with some councils proposing only charging buses and lorries, others - considering cars and some resisting JAQU altogether.


As a result, the public can easily be forgiven for not understanding what is going on.  With 40,000 premature deaths a year - reducing pollution is really a no-brainer.  And whilst the public accept the need for change there are some that don't want to pay charges or are unable to do so. Inevitably the debate is in danger of being polarised around costs and business competiveness.  So it's increasingly difficult for politicians and officers to square the circle.


Looking up and down the country, I can see in towns from Leeds to Southampton local politicians being inexorably drawn into these debates with the resulting petitions and arguments. The debate needs to be broadened. Whilst charging may inevitably play a part there should be increased support and grants for communities to give local politicians more room for manoeuvre.


The Government should dig into their pockets and provide more cash to enable council's to develop their own locally based infrastructure and grant schemes to address the own local issues as part of reducing higher polluting vehicles.


2040 is a long way away. And supporting CAZ's seems like one way to fill in the gap. And whilst the longer term vision of the Government is welcomed - by increasing investment in local transport infrastructures and assisting help people to upgrade to cleaner vehicles now, the Government would save the NHS millions in future costs. As I said it really is a no-brainer.