Question: Autumn Budget: Diesel

MQT on 2017-12-14
Session date: 
December 14, 2017
Question By: 
Leonie Cooper
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Does the Mayor think that the Government has done enough in the autumn budget to tackle the impact diesel cars are having on London's air quality?


Answer for Question: Autumn Budget: Diesel

Answer for Question: Autumn Budget: Diesel

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The Government’s Autumn Budget did not announce any help for Londoners to clean up our toxic air.  The Budget made some very minor changes to vehicle excise duty (VED) and company car tax to discourage the purchase of more polluting vehicles, and provided some further funding for air quality from the revenues of those tax changes. 


However, we asked for a vehicle scrappage fund to help low-income residents, charities and businesses to have the lowest emission vehicles possible or switch to clean alternatives to meet new emission standards being introduced across the country.  The Government failed to meet this request.  Instead the Government committed only £220 million for a national Clean Air Fund to support mitigation measures, and approximately £255 million to help cities implement clean air zones like the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).  Remarkably, London will not be able to access any of this funding.  Instead TfL is expected to shoulder the cost of implementing the ULEZ with no support from Government.  As a reminder, TfL will now receive no Government subsidy and so air quality improvements are being paid for by public transport farepayers, putting pressure on investment in other infrastructure Londoners need.  The Government is happily banking these efforts without contributing towards them.  Nor are they providing us with the additional powers or complementary national action we have repeatedly requested. 


Most concerning of all, we now have a situation where Londoners not only have the highest pollution levels in the UK but, unlike residents of other cities, will receive no help from their Government.  This is despite Londoners contributing to the new Clean Air Fund through higher VED on sales of new diesel cars in London.  This is unfair, unjust and unacceptable.  With roughly 40% of the UK’s roads that exceed legal limits being located in London it would be reasonable to expect London to receive a share of any national funding available proportionate to the scale of the air quality challenge this city faces.  This would equate to nearly £200 million in extra funding for London.  I call on all Members of the Assembly to stand up for London and to make the case to the Government and help me secure this additional funding for Londoners.


Leonie Cooper AM:  Mr Mayor, not surprisingly, I think you are as disappointed as I am that the Government did not take this opportunity to try to support the work you have been doing in London to try to improve and clean up London’s dirty and filthy toxic air.  Do you think it is also fair on the boroughs across London that they are being expected to take on the rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure at a time when the Government has also been imposing austerity cuts on their budgets?  What more can we do to support them?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Can I commend the local authorities across London who are facing tough cuts imposed upon by them by central Government but who are trying to do the right thing in relation to air quality in these difficult times?  We have secured funding for helping local authorities, £5.2 million for residential and £2.3 million for car clubs.  Twenty-five boroughs have now secured funding from this pot.  You will see some installations beginning very shortly, which is really important, across London.  We have also seconded an officer to London Councils to help them in relation to this.


There is a Bill going through Parliament which I know you are well aware of, the Autonomous Electric Vehicles Bill.  What we are saying to the Government is it could help councils fast track planning by giving permitted development rights for the rapid charging points.  It would speed things up.  We are also helping councils in relation to the installation of rapid charging points by parking spaces.  There are things the Government can do aside from more resources. 


I am not going to criticise local authorities faced with tough decisions because of cuts made upon them by central Government.  Many Londoners will not realise but we are one of the most centralised democracies in the Western world.  Local authorities get most of their money from central Government.  They are trying to do the right thing in these tough times.


Leonie Cooper AM:  Yes.  For all the song and dance people make about council tax, it does only cover about 5% of local authority services.


Given the increase in commercial vehicles on London’s roads are you concerned that the Government is not targeting those vehicles that are the main polluters, which are causing much of our poor air quality and also elsewhere in the country as well?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I will give you an idea of the scale.  13% of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in the air comes from vans and 20% comes from heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).  What I am saying to the Government is you have to help these vans and HGVs move away from the polluting stuff.  The vehicle scrappage scheme is a way of helping charities and van and HGV drivers move away from diesel to clean forms of vans and HGVs.  By the way, good news: the Euro VI HGVs are very clean.  The latest Euro VI standard is showing 80% to 90% NOx reductions in older vehicles when tested in real‑world conditions.  The Government could help in relation to rapid charging points for the commercial fleet.  Electric vehicles are pioneering the new technology, but we need rapid charging from the Government to help. 


I am not in favour of punishing HGV drivers, punishing van drivers or punishing charities.  Many of them were encouraged to buy diesel many years ago because we were trying to move them away from petrol carbon emissions to diesel, which has less carbon emissions.  We now know diesel causes particulate matter problems through nitrogen dioxide.  The Government has to help them with a vehicle scrappage scheme.  The irony is London diesel drivers are paying higher road taxes towards a scheme we cannot benefit from. 


Leonie Cooper AM:  I suppose there is no news at all about any kind of Clean Air Act in the additional powers?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The Secretary of State in this department, Michael Gove MP, has been posing in the media for the good work he is doing around animal welfare and I commend him for the work he is doing around animal welfare.  It would be great if Michael Gove MP did some work around clean air as well, not simply to respond to a legal challenge but because we can be the generation of politicians who pass the Clean Air Act for the 21st century, walking behind those who passed the Clean Air Act in 1956 that cleaned up the air in London, the Great Smog.  We can be a generation that cleans up the air in London as well. 


My plea to Michael Gove and the current Government is to seize this and pass a Clean Air Act because with the best will in the world, all the stuff we are doing ‑ more than any city in the world ‑ will only deal with about half of the pollution caused by transport.  What about housing?  What about the River Thames?  What about construction?  What about making sure we have a replacement for when we leave the EU?  Who is going to be in charge of enforcement?  Who is going to be in charge of compliance?  Who is going to be in charge of monitoring?  There is justification for a new Clean Air Act.  I just hope Michael Gove MP will seize the initiative.