31 July. That’s the latest the Government can publish its Air Quality Plan if it wants to comply with the dictates of the High Court. We’re all waiting until then to discover what Theresa May and her ministers will do about diesel vehicles.
Westminster Council introduces the ‘D-charge’
But this doesn’t mean that nothing is happening in the meantime. On top of Sadiq Khan’s recent Draft Transport Strategy for London – which included an ambition to make the city’s transport system entirely carbon-free by 2050 – we have news of another charge for diesel vehicles in the capital. This ‘D-charge’ is currently being trialled by Westminster Council, and will see the owners of pre-2015 diesels pay an extra £2.45 an hour to park in areas such as Marylebone, Fitzrovia and Hyde Park. That’s 50% more than other motorists will pay.
Other councils, including Islington and Camden, have already imposed diesel surcharges on their annual parking permits, but Westminster’s D-charge is the first to be imposed on parking bays – and that makes it significant. Not only are Westminster breaking new ground, they’re showing how much ground there is for other local authorities to occupy. Councillors can do quite a lot to combat air pollution, even without the national Government’s involvement.
The advent of Clean Air Zones
For its part, the national Government is happy with this arrangement. Its draft of the Air Quality Plan made clear that the introduction of Clean Air Zones will form a large part of its efforts to tackle air pollution. And while the Clean Air Zone Framework that was published alongside the draft Plan does suggest plenty of policies that could apply within the boundaries of a Clean Air Zone, it does not specify which policies should be implemented where. Local authorities will be left to make the decisions themselves. Everyone will have a go at being Westminster Council.
Devolving control of local policies to local politicians makes a lot of sense. It enables councils to tailor their Clean Air Zones to meet the particular needs of their area, as well as to experiment and learn from other councils.
However, it’s worth noting that it could also introduce more complexity and uncertainty for fleets. Different local authorities will be introducing different policies affecting different vehicles at different times. The next few years could turn Britain into a patchwork of charges and incentives – yet another challenge for fleet managers.