The new draft air quality plan, published on 5 May 2017, is the UK government's revised attempt at a plan for reducing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels below EU limits in the shortest possible time. The government's previous attempt was scrapped for not going far enough following a successful legal challenge by the NGO ClientEarth last year.

What measures does the air quality plan propose?

Media speculation prior to publication of the draft plan had suggested that we could expect to see a significant expansion in the number of mandatory clean air zones (i.e. those towns and cities where charges are imposed on vehicle entry) as well as the introduction of a wide-reaching diesel scrappage scheme. Neither is in fact reflected in the published proposals, but potential measures include:

  • charging and non-charging clean air zones at the discretion of local authorities
  • retrofitting of buses
  • financial support for alternative fuels such as electricity and hydrogen
  • new speed limits
  • eco-driving incentives
  • a targeted diesel scrappage scheme
  • increases in taxes on diesel cars and fuel
  • a car labelling scheme based on both NO2 and CO2
  • measures to tackle NO2 emissions from Medium Combustion Plants.

A key theme of the draft plan is the placing of the burden of taking steps to achieve air quality improvements on local authorities.

Reaction to the air quality plan

The Mayor of London has commented that the draft plan is "toothless and woefully inadequate" while the founder and chief executive of ClientEarth, James Thornton, condemned the plan as "even worse than the previous effort, which has already been ruled illegal by the high court". Early indications are that a plan in the proposed form will not escape a fresh challenge from ClientEarth.

What happens next?

The government is consulting on its proposals until 15 June, with the final plan to be published by the end of July 2017 (in line with the timescales imposed by the Courts following the last ClientEarth challenge). The government's proposals will have wide-reaching effects across a number of sectors but will perhaps be of particular interest to those operating in the transport and industrial sectors and to local authorities. Interested parties are encouraged to engage in the consultation process to help influence the shape of the final plan. Consultation responses can be provided online.