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

Environmental Improvement Officer

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
£29,636 - £33,799 per annum
We have an exciting opportunity to recruit to the position of Environmental Improvement Officer within Regulatory Services. Sandwell, West Midlands
Recruiter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Legal Officer - Planning and Highways

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£26,999 - £29,636
Kirklees Legal Services is one of the largest legal practices in the area and carries out and commissions legal work required by the Council Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Environmental Cleansing Operative

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£20.466 - £20.835
This is an exciting opportunity to be part of a dynamic team of staff responsible for the cleanliness and general maintenance of a wide range of... Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Road Safety Engineer / Road Safety Auditor (all levels of experience)

TMS Consultancy
By negotiation
Purpose of the Job Depending on individual experience, candidates will be involved in a range of road safety engineering and traffic management pro... Coventry
Recruiter: TMS Consultancy

Senior Technical Officer

Newport City Council
£30,507 - £33,799
We are pleased to be seeking individuals to fill a new Senior Technical Officer post within Highways.    Newport (Casnewydd)
Recruiter: Newport City Council

Senior Technical Officer

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£24,799 - £29,636
The successful candidate will feed into the planning process, assessing applications in accordance with the... Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Technical Support Officer

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£21.591 - £25.809
Using your administrative and communication skills to the full, you’ll provide invaluable support across our busy Directorate.  Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Assistant Tree Officer

Camden London Borough Council
£25,880 - £27,904
Looking for an assistant tree officer to join a busy Tree Section working with the most up to date arboriculture equipment’s and IT resources.   Camden, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Camden London Borough Council

Contract Monitoring Officer (Streets and Grounds)

Wiltshire Council
£24,313 - £26,317 per annum
This is an interesting and varied role involving inspecting and monitoring the condition of the highway Wiltshire
Recruiter: Wiltshire Council

Green Space Partnership Officer

Camden London Borough Council
£30,066 - £34,538
You will have excellent written and presentation skills including experience of preparation of reports, briefings, minutes of meetings and... Camden, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Camden London Borough Council

Sustainability Officer

Camden London Borough Council
£33,122 - £38,423
Looking for two Sustainability Officers to work across the Sustainability, Air Quality and Energy team to create, manage and... Camden, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Camden London Borough Council

Parking Projects Manager

Brent Council
£45,585 - £48,482 p.a. inc.
As Parking Projects Manager, you will be responsible for leading the delivery, to time and budget, of key parking projects... Wembley, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Brent Council

Parking Operations Officer

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£19,554 - £21,166
Are you a hard-working individual, who enjoys working outdoors in all weather conditions? Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Team Leader (Local Plan)

City of Bradford MDC
£40,760 - £43,662 pa
The post requires a degree and eligible to be a corporate member of Royal Town Planning Institute and NVQ Level 5 in Management or... Bradford, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: City of Bradford MDC

Team Leader (Infrastructure & Local Plan Implementation)

City of Bradford MDC
£42,683 pa - £45,591 pa
The Post provides an exciting opportunity to manage a multidisciplinary team of professionals leading on Transport planning and Local Plan Bradford, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: City of Bradford MDC

Environmental Health Officer

Camden London Borough Council
£32,473 - £42,490
Seeking Environmental Health Officers to contribute towards delivering the project objectives of addressing rogue landlords and... Camden, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Camden London Borough 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

Project Assistant

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£26,999 - £29,636
Looking for an additional team member to support the Senior Environmental Health Officers in undertaking complex Air Quality Improvement Projects... Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Principal Road Safety Officer

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£42684 - £45585 per annum
We are looking a fantastic new road safety expert to lead our high performing and innovative Road Safety Team.The Royal Borough of Greenwich is commit England, London, Woolwich
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Principal Development Co-ordinator

Gloucestershire County Council
£33,799.00 - £38,813.00 plus 12% supplement*
Looking for those who will quickly understand the Gloucestershire context and can display their expertise and... Gloucestershire
Recruiter: Gloucestershire County Council

Highways on Fridays

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue
  • Highways England at Westminster
  • Traffex Scotland and Bridges Scotland guide
  • Highways Awards winners
View the latest issue

Latest Video