Diesel drivers could soon face congestion charge in major cities

Image of Neil Thomason
Author: | Updated: 03 Nov 2016 10:43

Diesel drivers could soon be charged to enter many major cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and Bristol after the High Court ruled that the government is not doing enough to meet air pollution targets.

Manchester Central Library. Photo by Ricardo of Manchester.

ClientEarth, who first launched legal action in 2011, says that 37 out of 43 zones across the UK remain in breach of legal limits and claimed in court that the government had done “the bare minimum hoping the problem would disappear by 2020”.

Millions of motorists have every right to feel hard-done-by having been told for years that diesel engines were better for the environment.

In a landmark ruling yesterday, Mr Justice Garnham agreed that the Environment Secretary had failed to take measures that would bring the UK into compliance with the law “as soon as possible” and said that ministers knew that over-optimistic projections of pollution levels were being used.

Commenting on the result, ClientEarth air quality lawyer Alan Andrews said: “We need a national network of clean air zones to be in place by 2018 in cities across the UK, not just in a handful of cities.

“Future projections of compliance need to be based on what is really coming out of the exhausts of diesel cars when driving on the road, not just the results of discredited laboratory tests.”

How will this ruling affect you if you drive a diesel?

Under the old plans only drivers of diesel lorries, buses, taxis and some vans would face charges for driving into ‘clean air zones’, but off the back of the ruling it is speculated that car drivers might also be included now – a move that was originally dismissed due to being politically unpopular.

London air pollution

London already has a congestion zone but also aims to have pollution charging by 2017

Similarly, while the government had tabled plans for six city-wide ‘clean air zones’ in Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby by 2020, and by 2025 in London, based off the ruling another ten cities are now speculated to face the ‘pollution tax’.

That means plans originally drawn up for clean-air zones in Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Liverpool, Bristol, Leicester, Stoke, Coventry, Hull and Sheffield are now expected to be revisited, having been rejected initially due to costs.

If this does happen, millions of motorists have every right to feel hard-done-by having been told for years that diesel engines were better for the environment because they generated less carbon dioxide than petrol vehicles, with previous governments offering generous tax breaks to persuade people to purchase diesel cars.

Diesel pump flickr.com Flicktone

Previous incentives and advice made diesel vehicles a no-brainer

Gordon Brown, chancellor at the time, historically cut diesel duty by 3p back 2001 to reward drivers of diesel vehicles – this saw the number of diesel drivers jump from around 1.5m a decade ago to an estimated 11m today.

Despite these good intentions, scientists now say that diesel cars are worse for the environment and a bigger health risk than petrol vehicles. This is because they are the biggest source of nitrogen oxide, which has been linked to respiratory diseases.

It is highly unlikely that the government can now bring pollution levels down to the required levels without including every diesel vehicle entering city zones.

As such, if these plans do go ahead it would seem only fair that the Government may have to introduce a diesel car scrappage scheme as a gesture of goodwill to all those inner-city drivers who purchased vehicles based on previous tax cuts.

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