April’s Supreme Court ruling, impending EU fines and increasing evidence of health harm are ratcheting up the pressure on the UK government to meet legal limits and World Health Organisation guidelines for nitrogen dioxide
Reducing traffic by rationalising deliveries, support for public transport and improving space for cycling and walking would decrease pollution and create healthier cities to live and work but our cities would still need movement of goods, services and people.
The UK has only a handful of Europe’s over 200 low emission zones where older vehicles are banned. However, to be successful these schemes rely on newer vehicles producing less pollution than old ones. So far this has not been the case for nitrogen oxides from diesel vehicles. The newest Euro VI standard lorries and buses appear to produce less pollution but new diesel cars still emit four to seven times the test limits when driven in our cities.
Petrol cars emit far less pollution than diesel so reserving city centres for the newest lorries and buses along with petrol cars could help, but what about current owners of diesel cars and older heavy vehicles? The government and the London Mayor have funded pollution control upgrades for around 2,000 buses. Another solution could be California-style scrappage schemes, which pay owners to scrap highly polluting vehicles especially if the old vehicle and its low pollution replacement are used in pollution hotspots.
Improving city centre heating systems, better insulation, low pollution gas boilers or, as the Close the Door campaign suggests, simply shutting shop doors in winter would help too.