Greg Smith: Labour’s diesel stealth tax won’t improve air quality

gregsmithCllr Greg Smith is Leader of the Conservative Group on Hammersmith and Fulham Council. This is his speech to last night’s Council meeting

We all remember the days when the party opposite would decry stealth taxes: but now we see in the cold light of administration, that they actually love them.

Their slogan of doing things “with” residents, now heavily caveated to say only if they agree with – in this instance – residents’ choice of vehicle.

Now I firmly believe that the job of local government is to work to ensure we make residents lives easier. In a borough as densely populated as ours, parking will always be at a premium. But it is equally my conviction that far from nanny state finger wagging at those who’s cars and vans you don’t like, we as a council should simply seek to help people and their visitors park as close to their front door as possible, no matter what they drive.

Furthermore, this new found hatred of diesel is somewhat surprising, given that the last Labour Government, egged on by the European Union, went out of their way to ENCOURAGE people to buy diesel cars.

So, why are we on this side, opposed to this additional tax on diesel car and van owners.

Firstly, because it is nonsensical from an environmental perspective. Diesel cars are simply not the worst offenders for putting nitrogen dioxide and nitrous oxide into the air. The worst offenders are aircraft and heavy goods vehicles, with buses and black cabs also contributing. The Council should look at other positive ideas, that may actually work, rather than just taxing hard working families and individuals. For example, gas boilers contribute approximately 12 per cent of London’s nitrous oxide emissions, which equally contribute to nitrogen dioxide. A London Boiler Cashback Scheme was launched by Mayor Boris Johnson in February 2016, providing £400 cashback to households that replaced the oldest, most polluting boilers with the newest and cleanest models. Funding of £2.6 million was allocated to the scheme, which provided for 6,500 owner occupiers and accredited private landlords to benefit from the scheme. An extension of this scheme would allow greater nitrogen dioxide savings to be achieved and more households to benefit from lower bills.

Secondly, because this stealth tax it makes no financial sense. What on earth is an extra £20 or £30 a year on the price of a permit going to achieve when the cost of changing a car will cost people a minimum of thousands of pounds if not tens of thousands? And the people who can least afford it, those who rely on their small van for work, or modest car to ferry the kids about, will be hit the hardest. That extra £20 or £30 a year will really hurt many of our residents, who need their vehicle, worked hard to get it and maintain it, and are taxed enough already on fuel, their road fund license and frankly, the current rate of parking permits.

Thirdly, bizarrely from a party who are supposed to be about fairness and the redistribution of wealth, because it is deeply unfair to those who can least afford to change their vehicle AND beneficial to the owners of more expensive, fuel inefficient cars.

Indeed, without really wanting to channel Neil Kinnock, we must ask ourselves, why is it, that a Labour Council, is taxing the owner of a diesel Ford Fiesta on Crookham Road in my ward more, but the £119,000, 16 feet long Porsche Cayenne Turbo S parked next to it gets a tax break by still only paying £119 a year, despite taking up five feet more in length! Or perhaps they are proud of wanting to charge the owner of the 75mpg Skoda Fabia on Mimosa Street more to park, but the £132,000, 15mpg, 550hp, 5.0 Litre V8 Supercharged Petrol, Range Rover SV Autobiography parked next to it less.

Is that what the Labour Party has become? Champion of the supercar? Promoter of the Porsche? Friend of the Ferrari? All great cars, but it just doesn’t add up with what they say they are trying to achieve.

To be generous, Labour are confused on this matter. To be more accurate, I think they are engaged on a mission of spite – desperate for a headline, but without and substance or foundation.

Give it a rethink guys. If you want to help the environment, there is so much more you could have done.

3 thoughts on “Greg Smith: Labour’s diesel stealth tax won’t improve air quality

  1. “Diesel cars are simply not the worst offenders for putting nitrogen dioxide and nitrous oxide into the air.”

    That isn’t what TfL say.

    Road transport represents 50% of NOx emissions compared to 12% from domestic gas.

    Of road transport sources, diesel cars are the single largest source of NOx emissions – more than HGVs, buses or taxis.

    Indeed, petrol cars are also a significant source of NOx emissions (more than taxis) so diesel and petrol cars together contribute more than a third of NOx emissions from road transport sources.

    Given this directly contradicts what you have said, can you provide a source for your claim?

  2. Greg, I think you are letting yourself down a little with this argument!

    There is consensus that diesel engines are much dirtier than we thought and we need to get them off the roads.

    I do think people need time to make decisions and adjustments, so don’t bring in higher taxes immediately but wait for three to five years.

    I do agree that there is an irrational dislike in London Labour of private powered vehicles in general. Their voter base tend not to own cars or need to drive anywhere. The latest 20mph speed limits on main roads seem almost deliberately designed to annoy and frustrate drivers.

  3. Yesterday I attended an event on Decarbonising at Policy Exchange in Westminster. We heard from a manufacturer of hydrogen vehicles in Wales (an alternative to Honda and Hyundai vehicles), and from Zipcar which claims that every car it puts on the roads removes 14 private vehicles. I sat next to a man from British Gas which is developing methane fuel primarily for HGVs.

    Every week there are new developments in cleaner and more efficient energy. Tesla is bringing to market several styles of roofing tiles which embed energy production. The days of clunky photovoltaic panels may soon be over.

    Meanwhile, London continues to suffer from polluted air. This is particularly difficult for the very young, the elderly and those already in poor health. All vehicles dependent on fossil fuels produce nitrous oxides, and diesel produces most of all. All vehicles – even ‘clean’ ones – shed particulates, the very smallest penetrating deep into the lungs and even the brain. This is not disputed.

    So what to do? The resident-led H&F Air Quality Commission produced its report last autumn. Our remit was to consider the quality of air in the borough and make recommendations for its improvement. Only about 25% traffic in Hammersmith and Fulham starts in the borough, the rest is passing through. A good chunk of traffic is on its way to Heathrow and is very likely more polluting than overflying aircraft in this borough.

    We recommended actions for the borough, the GLA and the Government. The Council only has a degree of power over traffic. It can beef up environmental standards in new building works and we expect that the emerging Local Plan will recommend zero-carbon and other measures for new buildings.

    One of the most keenly debated subjects by the AQ Commissioners was the matter of residents’ parking permits. The financial implications did not concern us although it might be said that, as the number of discounts for clean cars rises, any reduction of revenue from that source might be set against increased revenue from diesel permits.

    If diesel is more polluting of air than petrol – and it is – then it is also to be discouraged if clean air is to be valued. Given that – mile for mile – diesel is cheaper than petrol, £20 or £30 extra per year for a diesel permit did not seem unreasonable. (I should say that one of the AQ Commissioners dissented from this view.)

    Some time in the not so distant future petrol cars themselves may become an anomaly. Will we be getting our hydrogen vehicles from Japan or from Wales? Will our cars, homes and places of work be powered by photovoltaic cells alone? We are in transition.

    Meanwhile, all Councils have to deal with residents’ parking permits.

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