Steve Hamilton: How to tackle air pollution without punishing the poor

stevehamCllr Steve Hamilton is a councillor for Sands End Ward and the Conservative spokesman on transport.

An honest increase in revenue could be taken from increased Council Tax, but the Administration made an election pledge to freeze Council Tax – sorry, they actually made a pledge to cut Council Tax, but did anyone really expect them to keep their pledge?

Instead they have decided to introduce an stealth tax on a third of car owners in the borough – introduced under the cover of clearer air, but intended as a simple revenue increase – they have staggered the tax over a number of years, to reduce the headline figure to ‘just £20’ as they describe it.

This stealth tax is despite one of the recommendations of this Council’s Parking Task Group, which concluded “The Task Group supports the principle of encouraging residents to drive more environmentally friendly-vehicles through reduced parking fees for green vehicles, but not penalising drivers of older, less environmentally-friendly vehicles.”

The fact that this is a tax designed to increase revenue is clear from the cabinet papers – a green measure would talk about the reduced number of vehicles subject to the tax – instead, and I quote from the report “…this would increase the income from Parking Permits…” and “This will be taken account of in the council’s future financial planning.”

So it is a tax, pure and simple, but is there a point in charging more for a permit for a diesel car than a petrol car?

Diesel cars have been encouraged by government – it was the previous Labour government that decided that CO2 was bad, and anything that could be done to reduce CO2 therefore had to be good – including replacing CO2 with NOx – hence they encouraged people to buy diesel instead of petrol, and now people who listened to the Labour government are now to be punished for it by this Labour council.

We already tax people on their use of fuel, in the US you pay roughly 68 cents for a litre, currently about 55p – compared to £1.20 per litre here. This tax is directly proportionate to the amount of pollution a vehicle causes – more fuel in = more cost.

This is in direct contrast to this Labour stealth tax – which is the same if you leave your car at home all day, or if you drive up and down the streets of the borough.

In fact, it is even worse – the vast majority of journeys made in the borough are by people who do not live in the borough – so the Administration is taxing our residents, while leaving the majority of offenders alone.

Are the borough’s diesel drivers a major source of pollution?

As this is the Administration’s flagship policy for clearer air, you might expect local diesel drivers to be in the top 3 producers of NOx – but they are not – in the top 10 then? No, they are joint 13th – tied with taxis – for now at least, as when the TX5 is introduced later this year, a model launched by Boris Johnson as Mayor, we will see zero emission taxis.

So what are the top producers of NOx, and what is the council doing about them? Very little…

Construction is the biggest producer of NO2 – generally diesel from construction vehicles and from diesel generators – actually as the council is approving fewer homes, you might argue they are doing something to reduce their impact – but more could be done here – planning conditions could be used to encourage using grid electricity instead of generators and lower emission vehicles

In second place, diesel rail. The good news is that the Conservative government are doing something – the electrification of the Great Western line will enable diesel trains to be phased out from the line – possibly reducing a whole class of polluter.

In third place is non-domestic gas, and I know of nothing that the council is doing to address this.

Finally, in fourth place, are buses – as Mayor, Boris Johnson introduced the hybrid Routemaster bus to reduce pollution, which the current Mayor has decided to cancel. Boris had also started requiring zero emission buses be used on ever more routes – this is an area where the Council should be working harder with the Mayor of London, to set a timetable for all buses in Hammersmith and Fulham to be zero emission – removing all diesel buses from the borough would do more than removing all diesel cars, and it is achievable without introducing stealth taxes on our residents.

Some might say that it is just £20 per year, those who drive new flashy 4x4s can afford it, but that misses the point – most people with a new 4×4 will replace it in a few years, and can choose a vehicle that meets the emissions requirements.

As the cabinet report says – “those less economical [sic] well off, as these people are more likely to own older cars which are less emission friendly. As such the new permit structure and associated prices may have a greater impact on this sector of residents.” – not may – it will, as these are the people for whom an extra £60 per year is an unwelcome additional expense, but who cannot simply replace their vehicle.

6 thoughts on “Steve Hamilton: How to tackle air pollution without punishing the poor

  1. Can you provide a reference for your statements about the relative contribution of different pollution sources?

    According to the TfL information below, diesel cars are the single largest contributor of NOx pollutants from road transport – more than buses, HGVs, vans or taxis.

    Petrol cars are also a significant source so diesel cars and petrol cars together represent a third of road transport emissions, more than any other road transport source.

    This directly contradicts your statement so you really should provide your references otherwise you are straying into the arena of “alternative facts”….

  2. Carolinefff says: ORiordan – their scheme is quite different in terms of who pays and when; much better I think: “In a pilot programme to be introduced by Westminster City Council from 3 April 2017, the charge for pay-to-park bays during normal parking hours will be raised specifically within F zone for diesel cars, some of the heaviest of polluting vehicles. This will apply to visitors into Marylebone, with resident permits remaining unchanged.”

  3. The blog post is taken from the speech I gave at the Council meeting, so it was not practical to include tables.

    The figures I used were taken from those presented to the Community Safety, Environment and Residents Services PAC on September 2015, which are the most recent figures which have come to scrutiny.
    In those figures, Road Transport is the largest source of NOx, but it is also broken down into different types of vehicles – and when merged, no single form of transport is in the top 3.

    It is also important to note that the Labour administration’s diesel surcharge only applies to vehicles owned by local residents. In the reports pack for the Cabinet meeting of 5 December 2016, it notes that residents vehicles account for roughly 25% of the emissions, so I have further divided cars into local and non-local cars, to help highlight that this is a tax increase which they have attempted to justify as a green measure.

    The table of sources is:

    Pollution Source Percent
    1 Construction 19%
    2 Diesel Rail 15%
    3 Gas – Non-domestic 12%
    4 LT Bus 9%
    5 Gas – Domestic 8%
    6 Rigid Lorry 6%
    7 Diesel Car – Non-local 6%
    8 Diesel LGV 5%
    9 Aviation 4%
    10 Petrol Car – Non-local 4%
    11 Coach 3%
    =12 Diesel Car – Local 2%
    =12 Taxi 2%
    =12 Industry 2%
    =15 Petrol Car – Local 1%
    =15 Artic Lorry 1%
    17 Motorcycle 0%
    18 Petrol LGV 0%

  4. Thanks for the reference. As a proportion of road transport emissions, the TfL figures have diesel cars as a higher proportion of road transport and contributing more than buses although petrol cars are lower, so the overall proportion of private cars is similar between the two sets of figures.

    What would you be recommending as a measure to reduce emissions from private cars? They clearly are making a significant contribution.

    I don’t think that policy mistakes in the past should mean an exemption or immunity from causing real damage to people right now.

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