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The coming war on diesel and what it means for you

Big changes are on the horizon for diesel vehicles. Business Growth Hub environmental and low carbon intelligence officer, Laurence Adams, outlines why.



What’s the story?

For the last decade or so, climate change has been king when it comes to the emissions coming out of your exhaust pipe. The focus has been on cutting CO2 emissions – the main contributor to the greenhouse effect warming the planet.

That’s why for years we’ve been encouraged to buy diesel-powered vehicles, which generally emit far less CO2 than an equivalent petrol engine. All vehicles on the market now come with a CO2 rating, and the lower the CO2, the less tax you pay.

But it turns out that CO2 is far from the end of the story. There’s another pollutant that comes out of your tailpipe – NOx, and if you’ve got a diesel, it’s bad news.

NOx (nitrogen oxides), along with associated particulates from your exhaust, are the biggest single contributor to urban air pollution – the smog we live, work and play in every day in our towns and cities.

This is where diesel engines fall down. Even the most recent diesel vehicles on the market emit ten times more NOx than petrol equivalents.

The impact on our health is significant. Here in Greater Manchester, over 1,300 deaths are attributed to air pollution each year. The impacts are worse for vulnerable groups – children, the elderly, and those with health conditions such as asthma.


Why now?

For years, high NOx emissions have been going under the radar, mainly because of the spotlight on CO2, but also partly because car manufacturers have been reporting far lower emissions in testing than is actually the case out on the road. We all know about the emissions scandals that hit the news in 2015 – where several household names were discovered to be fitting millions of their cars worldwide with ‘defeat devices’ that cheated emissions tests.

Regardless, there are now so many diesel vehicles on the road that air pollution from NOx can no longer be ignored.

Defra, the government department responsible for air quality, has divided the country into 43 air quality zones, and 37 of them – including Greater Manchester – are failing to comply with legal limits. In London, it took just the first five days of January this year for the capital to surpass its annual limit. Five days. This is a public health crisis.

The government has been under pressure for a number of months to look at ways to turn things around. On 5 May 2017, it published a draft plan to tackle the problem.


What’s the plan?

The government’s draft plan sets out a number of different measures that could be taken, but focuses particularly on the introduction of a raft of ‘Clean Air Zones’ around the country.

These zones would tackle pollution in designated hotspots on major roads or in town centres, and may or may not include charging certain vehicles or banning them at certain times of the day. London is already set to introduce a ‘T-Charge’ (T for toxicity) later in 2017.

Here in Greater Manchester, we have our own independent Air Quality Strategy, which among other things commits the city region to investigating the feasibility of Clean Air Zones.

Greater Manchester also recently became the first UK city to be accepted into the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s global BreatheLife network, and we have signed up stringent air pollution targets. 


What does it mean for me?

The government’s new proposals are out for public consultation until 15 June. The final plan is expected by the end of July 2017.

It’s not decided yet where the Clean Air Zones will be in Greater Manchester, or whether they will be chargeable. But the vehicles affected by any future restrictions could be anything up to pre-Euro 6, which includes everything registered before September 2015. So it’s not just ‘old bangers’ we’re talking about.

If you have diesel vehicles in this range and you do a lot of intra-city travel, it’s worth thinking about the future. Vans are particularly in the spotlight – 96 per cent of vans on our roads are diesel-powered.

What support is available?

For companies that do a lot of short-distance, urban driving – ultra low emission and electric vehicles are now more attractive than ever.

As well as much lower tax in general, you can benefit from a 100 per cent first-year tax allowance on eligible vehicles and charging equipment. Capital grants are also available for eligible cars and vans, as well as electric vehicle charging infrastructure at your workplace.

Greater Manchester already has a strong and growing charging network to support electric vehicles, and they are popular with employees – a 2016 government-backed survey found that nearly 70 per cent of employees would use an electric vehicle if they were given the opportunity by their employer.

Of course, there’s also plenty of other ways to future-proof travel for employees too. Why not investigate ways to encourage sustainable travel options such as cycling or public transport?

Your business can access grants of up to £10,000 for sustainable travel projects from Transport for Greater Manchester.

Our experts here at the Hub are also here to help – our environmental business advisors can help you improve the fuel efficiency of your fleet and identify what the most suitable options are for you.


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