Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has deemed the Labour government’s decision to cut fuel duty on low-sulphur diesel in 2001 a ‘mistake’ – because although diesel produces less CO2, it also produces significantly more NOx than petrol.
“It is something that we’ve got to address,” said the minister to the London Evening Standard.
“In fairness, they thought they were doing the right thing,” he said of the diesel promotion strategy. “The consequences of what they did was to bring about a reduction in carbon.”
But rising NOx levels in city centres – to levels that far breach official guidelines in parts of London – are seeing the government revise its air quality strategy.
The RAC has responded by saying motorists and businesses will be “aghast to hear the transport secretary hint at higher taxation levels for diesel vehicles.
“Many drivers and businesses have, in good faith, invested in diesel cars for this reason. What is more, diesel drivers contributed almost £17bn in fuel duty last year and already pay some of the highest diesel prices in Europe.
“There is no doubt that action is needed to improve air quality – however, by the Government’s own admission, this needs to be tackled at a local level.”
New London Mayor Sadiq Khan is already considering a ‘T-Charge’ that would impose an additional £12.50 charge on top of the London Congestion Charge on drivers of older diesels – that’s 2005 models or older. The scheme is apparently being accelerated for rollout in 2017.
The RAC’s Williams adds that “there must also be a concerted effort to clean up older, more polluting bus and taxi fleets in towns and cities.
“The Government can also not ignore the fact that congestion levels can exacerbate pollution levels and must consider measures that keep traffic moving.”