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

Key Route Network Manager

Liverpool City Region
£63,753 - £71,747
An exciting new opportunity has arisen within the Integrated Transport Directorate of the LCR Combined Authority Liverpool, Merseyside
Recruiter: Liverpool City Region

Medium/Heavy Vehicle Mechanic - January 2020

North West Leicestershire District Council
You could earn up to £28,785 + 0.75 hours per week plain time overtime
Tasks will include preparation for DVSA annual examination, servicing, general and defect generated repairs, fault finding including diagnostic tests. Coalville, Leicestershire
Recruiter: North West Leicestershire District Council

Senior Engineer (Co-ordinator) - 2 jobs

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£22,462 - £29,636 + £2000 Market Rate Supplement
The role is in the Highway Network Management & Co-ordination (HNMC) Team, which is part of Operational Services. Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Surface Water Engineer

Essex County Council
£30001.0 - £35350 per annum
At Essex County Council, we're passionate about helping deliver economic growth, the best starts in life and the chance to age well for people in the England, Essex, Chelmsford
Recruiter: Essex County Council

Highways Operations Manager

Swindon Borough Council
Salary up to £41,494 p.a.
In this key role, you will plan, organise, co-ordinate and control the workforce Swindon, Wiltshire
Recruiter: Swindon Borough Council

Director Neighbourhood & Enforcement

Telford & Wrekin Council
Cicra 89k
Telford and Wrekin is a great place to live, work, visit and do business. Telford, Shropshire
Recruiter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Senior Engineer (Highways Maintenance Design)

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£22,462 - £29,636
Are you looking for an opportunity to work as a Senior Engineer, whilst still being able to develop your career and have a good work-life balance? Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Highways Projects Engineer

Cambridgeshire County Council
£33,153 - £35,755
Looking for strong team players interested in working with a variety of professional and community partners across Cambridgeshire and... Cambridgeshire
Recruiter: Cambridgeshire County Council

Senior Heating Engineer

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
Up to £48,692 per annum
Looking for a Senior Heating Engineer who will work as part of one of the small professional teams. London (Greater)
Recruiter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Lead Practitioner (Infrastructure)

Newark & Sherwood District Council
£33,799 to £35,934 per annum
Newark and Sherwood is looking to recruit to its newly created post of Lead Practitioner for Infrastructure. Newark, Nottinghamshire
Recruiter: Newark & Sherwood District Council

Senior Parking Manager

Brent Council
£55,638 - £58,779 p.a. inc.
As Senior Parking Manager, you will be responsible for the effective management of the Council’s Parking Services contract Brentford (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recruiter: Brent Council

Highways Inspector

Hackney London Borough Council
£28,752 - £32,577
We are seeking an experienced Highways Inspector to join the Highways Team. Hackney, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Hackney London Borough Council

School Crossing Patrol

Brent Council
£21,591 - £22,377 p.a. inc. pro rata. (£11.50 per hour)
A school crossing patrol officer is responsible for assisting children to cross the road safely on their way to and from school. Brent, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Brent Council

Assistant Director - Environment

Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council
£82k per annum
Our Assistant Director – Environment will ensure clean, safe and attractive communities. Redcar, North Yorkshire
Recruiter: Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council

Traffic Engineering Team Leader

Telford & Wrekin Council
£39,782 - £42,683
This is an exciting opportunity to join Telford & Wrekin Council’s Network Management Team Telford, Shropshire
Recruiter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Street Lighting Client Officer

Enfield London Borough Council
£37,842 – £40,728
As a Street Lighting Client Officer, you will assist the Streetlighting Client Manager in managing the Council’s Street lighting Service Provider Enfield (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recruiter: Enfield London Borough Council

Partnership Director (Fixed Term for 2 years)

Tactran
£79,165 - £83,020
An exciting opportunity has arisen for the post of Partnership Director for the Tayside & Central Scotland Transport Partnership (Tactran). Perth, Perth and Kinross
Recruiter: Tactran

Service Director Planning, Transportation and Highways

Wakefield Council
£88,768
To lead on behalf of the Council on all planning, transportation and highways matters Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Wakefield Council

Road Safety and Sustainable Transport Assistant

Telford & Wrekin Council
SCP 13-17 - £11.41 - £12.35
Exciting opportunity to join Telford & Wrekin Council’s Highways, Transport & Engineering, Road Safety & Sustainable Transport Team. Telford, Shropshire
Recruiter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Highways on Fridays

Register now!

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

Valuing our roads: What is a network worth?

Also inside:

Traffex review 

Diary of a flood.

Beautiful roads

Live Labs exclusive briefing 

View the latest issue

Latest Video