Comment: How do we address air quality without choking off the economy?

25/08/2017
Highways Reporters

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, gives his analysis of the difficult issues surrounding the nation’s air quality.


How on earth should we tackle our air quality challenge without choking off our economy? That would be a tough enough challenge even without Brexit to add another layer of angst to the situation.



The Government’s latest, revised and expanded air quality strategy tries to tread this tightrope but to date the audience isn’t exactly applauding the 103-page document – accompanied by a 155-page technical report – that together are longer on words than detail.


And therein lies the rub for highways authorities caught up in the breach of EU air quality limits – how much of the remedy should be determined nationally and how much left to local discretion? The answer appears to be that everything is devolved, with councils drawing up ultra-focused plans down to individual street level. Only if these plans don’t add up will national government intervene to impose solutions.


Which makes for a pretty confusing picture for the average motorist. Save for mayor Sadiq Khan’s aggressive plans for London, you’d be hard pressed to find any maps showing where restrictions might apply, any detail of what the restrictions will be, and ongoing confusion about which specific vehicles will be caught.


There is much to be said for taking a ‘surgical’ approach to solving problems, as environment secretary Michael Gove said on the BBC’s Today programme but sometimes the patient would be better off with a single general anaesthetic rather than enduring sixteen different local injections. As transport professionals we might be completely comfortable distinguishing between the implications of an AQMA, an LEZ, a ULEZ and a CAZ. But surely we should be able to simplify things for the road user, in particular fleet operators who might routinely be navigating through multiple schemes?


If only we could sweep the problem away with one swift scrappage scheme. We’ve had scrappage before, after all. At least one of the auto companies is running a scheme currently with, depending on the dealership, up to £3,000 on the table.


Unfortunately that still leaves the buyer with around £10,000 to find, or more if they want a bigger car. Not really tenable for a low-income household running a several-year old diesel that they rely on to drop the kids at the childminder’s on the way to work.


There’s much talk of older, dirtier diesels, and it’s true, the older cars are a bit dirtier. The trouble is, all but the very latest cars aren’t that much cleaner when it comes to NOx. That’s the legacy of an emissions regime that led to some very specific engineering to meet laboratory test thresholds without due regard to what would then happen in real-world driving conditions.


There are diesel cars coming to market now with emissions performance good enough to shame their petrol counterparts, and the new real-world test regime is tantalisingly close. But 11 million-plus diesel cars amounts to quite a legacy to deal with.


That’s why we agree with the Government’s line that we should start with the heavier vehicles and those which do the most miles in the affected areas – trucks and buses. The good news here is that not only are cleaner models with us already but also retrofitting is a practical option, unlike for cars.


Which leaves us with our friend the van. With van traffic continuing to explode and vans making up much of daytime urban-traffic flow, we really do need a push to get cleaner models into circulation.


There’s no point berating our small businesses and tradesmen for driving dirty diesels if diesels are all that’s on offer to them. Perhaps that’s an area where government’s attention should focus, not least because many of those vans are trundling around on various forms of government business.


Don’t miss Steve Gooding’s column in Highways, now appearing every month.


The Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring Limited is a charity registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales. Charity Number 1002705. Registered address: 89–91 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5HS

Highways jobs

Highways Asset & Maintenance Manager

Brighton & Hove City Council
£42,806 - £46,326
Looking to recruit a new Highways Asset and Maintenance Manager Brighton, East Sussex
Recuriter: Brighton & Hove City Council

Senior Development Engineer

Bristol City Council
£27,358 - £33,136
Bristol is an exciting, and culturally thriving Regional Capital City of Bristol
Recuriter: Bristol City Council

Executive Director Place & Economy

Peterborough City & Cambridgeshire County Councils
Competitive salary
The opportunity to combine major services across a city and a county to contribute to the delivery of future growth and Infrastructure Cambridgeshire
Recuriter: Peterborough City & Cambridgeshire County Councils

Head of Culture & Place

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council
up to £78,800 plus PRP
This could not be a more important time to join Kensington and Chelsea Kensington and Chelsea, London (Greater)
Recuriter: The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council

Director for Cleaner, Greener & Cultural Services

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council
up to £103,500 plus PRP
This could not be a more important time to join Kensington and Chelsea Kensington and Chelsea, London (Greater)
Recuriter: The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council

Director for Public Protection

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council
up to £103,500 plus PRP
This could not be a more important time to join Kensington and Chelsea Kensington and Chelsea, London (Greater)
Recuriter: The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council

Chief Executive

Luton Borough Council
Luton Borough Council
Recuriter: Luton Borough Council

Head of Democratic Services

Ealing London Borough Council
£58,650.00 - £61,737.00
Ealing is an exciting place to live and work, and local democracy is at the heart of its success. Ealing, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Ealing London Borough Council

Director of Development and Environment

North Somerset Council
circa £125,000 p.a.
We are looking for an experienced and enthusiastic individual to maintain momentum on delivery of our regeneration and placemaking aspirations Somerset
Recuriter: North Somerset Council

Development Officer/Senior Development Officer

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council
£28,221 - £35,229 / £33,136 - £41,846
Seeking an individual to lead on all aspects of Highways advice to a busy Development Management team Solihull, West Midlands
Recuriter: Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council

Highways Asset & Maintenance Manager

Brighton & Hove City Council
£42,806 - £46,326
Looking to recruit a new Highways Asset and Maintenance Manager Brighton, East Sussex
Recuriter: Brighton & Hove City Council

Commercial Manager

Leicester City Council
£41,846 - £44,697
Seeking for a Comercial Manager to work for the Leicester City Council. Leicester, Leicestershire
Recuriter: Leicester City Council

Senior Highways Development Engineer

Leeds City Council
£37,107 - £39,961
Seeking to appoint an experienced highways engineer or transport planner. Leeds, West Yorkshire
Recuriter: Leeds City Council

Trainee Deputy Editor of Bridge Design & Engineering

Bridge Design & Engineering
£24,000-26,000
Bd&e is looking for a structural or civil engineering graduate with a passion for bridges. Dorset
Recuriter: Bridge Design & Engineering

Strategic Transport Project Development Officer

Hull City Council
£36.153 - £39.002
Would you like to work in the successful UK City of Culture? Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire
Recuriter: Hull City Council

Project Lead

Hull City Council
£45.181 - £48.563
Would you like to work in the successful UK City of Culture? Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire
Recuriter: Hull City Council

Highway Development Control Officer

Hull City Council
£31.401 - £34.106
Would you like to work in the successful UK City of Culture? Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire
Recuriter: Hull City Council

Highway / Traffic Development / Design Technician - Three posts

Hull City Council
£28221 - £30756
Would you like to work in the successful UK City of Culture? Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire
Recuriter: Hull City Council

Assistant Director - Economy & Regeneration

Babergh & Mid Suffolk
Up to £72k
Quality of work, quality of life, along with a generous relocation package and flexible working patterns. Ipswich, Suffolk
Recuriter: Babergh & Mid Suffolk

Assistant Director - Environment & Commercial Services

Babergh & Mid Suffolk
Up to £72k
Quality of work, quality of life, along with a generous relocation package and flexible working patterns Ipswich, Suffolk
Recuriter: Babergh & Mid Suffolk

Chief Executive

Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
c£160,000
Barnsley is a Council with ambition, flair and imagination Barnsley, South Yorkshire
Recuriter: Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council

Download your Highways App

Google App Apple App

Highways on Fridays

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

Includes:

  • Interviews with Jesse Norman and Jim O'Sullivan
  • Michael Matheson on road safety in Scotland
  • Traffex Road Expo Scotland review
View the latest issue

Latest Video