Figures show the numbers of licenced diesels rose by 29% from 2012-15, despite warnings over their contribution to illegal levels of air pollution
Diesel vehicles have taken a record share of the market on London roads in recent years, despite warnings blaming them for contributing to the capital’s illegal levels of air pollution.
Sadiq Khan, the new mayor of London, has been lobbying for a diesel scrappage scheme, a policy that was backed by his predecessor, Boris Johnson, as a way of tackling the illegal high nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels caused by diesels.
Experts have been speaking out since 2012 about the link between diesel vehicles and the toxic gas, which is above EU limits in dozens of British cities.
But the warnings have not been heeded by motorists, with the number of diesels licenced in London rising from 601,456 in 2012 to 774,513 in 2015, an increase of nearly 29%. Petrol vehicles fell over the same period, from 1,901,127 to 1,797,099, leaving diesel with a record high percentage of the market, at 29.4%.
“Government can no longer turn a blind eye to the serious consequences of diesel emissions,” said Leonie Cooper, Labour’s London assembly environment spokesperson, who obtained the figures from the Department for Transport.
“This worrying rise in diesel engines shows that they are running out of opportunities to bat away calls for a scrappage scheme.”
While the government has rejected calls for a diesel scrappage scheme, the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin said last week that the chancellor would need to consider increasing tax on diesel fuel to address air pollution.
However, new diesel cars sold since September 2015 have had to meet stringent new standards which cut nitrogen oxide emissions – which include NO2 – by 67% on the previous standard.
Cooper also criticised the “lax” mayoral record of Johnson on pollution, who was recently accused of burying a reportrevealing the severity of the city’s dirty air problem and how it disproportionately affected children at poorer schools.
Khan’s first major policy announcement was to say he would double the size of a planned clean air zone in London, and bring it in a year earlier than planned.
This week Khan added that he would like to get new powers to set ‘road tax’ rates, vehicle excise duty, which has been blamed by campaigners for incentivising the switch to diesel.
“VED [vehicle excise duty] collected from London registered vehicles could be devolved, allowing the mayor to set the rates and determine how the income raised is spent. If VED was devolved, it would be possible to restructure the way it is levied so as to tackle air quality by incentivising cleaner vehicles and investing VED revenue into air quality measures,” said a submission by the mayor to a court case being brought against the government over its clean air plans. Khan joined the high court challenge by NGO ClientEarth last month.
A spokeswoman for the mayor said: “Cleaning up London’s toxic air will be impossible without urgent government action. National policies caused the dieselisation of the vehicle fleet so it is only right government now sort out the consequences.
“Implementing a national diesel scrappage scheme is something that should have been addressed years ago and would quickly reduce the number of polluting vehicles driving throughout the capital every day.”
A public consultation will take place this summer on his new measures to tackle air pollution in London.