Diesel drivers on congested highways are to face new pollution taxes from 2020 – as the Government signals the end of the road for diesel and petrol cars by 2040.
A new air quality strategy to be unveiled by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove will propose that all cars on the UK’s road should eventually be electric or hybrid.
But Mr Gove has stopped short of backing an extensive scrappage scheme for diesel cars, as the Government previously intended. Instead he will consult on the idea in the autumn.
The new pollution taxes will apply on the UK’s busiest roads, mostly in London and big towns and cities, but also on two heavily congested motorways, the M4 near London and the M32 in Bristol.
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But coming just a day after BMW unveiled its new electric mini, to be built at Cowley, Oxford, the major change will come in 2040, when the sale of all new diesel and petrol cars will be banned.
The Government has identified 81 major roads in 17 towns and cities where it says urgent action is required because they are in breach of EU emissions standards, putting people’s health at risk.
The new strategy urges local authorities to attempt to reduce emissions at first by fitting the most polluting diesel vehicles with filters, changing road lay-outs and removing speed humps.
But as a last resort councils will be allowed to impose tough levies on the most polluting diesel vehicles as soon as 2020 to bring down the levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions.
A Government spokesman said: “Our plan to deal with dirty diesels will help councils clean up emissions hotspots – often a single road – through common sense measures which do not unfairly penalise ordinary working people.
“Diesel drivers are not to blame and to help them switch to cleaner vehicles the government will consult on a targeted scrappage scheme – one of a number of measures to support motorists affected by local plans.”
The strategy will disappoint motoring groups pressing for a diesel scrappage scheme, under which diesel drivers would receive compensation for trading in their polluting vehicles.
Instead the Government will hold a consultation on a “possible” scrappage scheme in the autumn, which sources have suggested is likely to be “very, very targeted”.
Mr Gove is expected to warn local authorities against “unfairly penalising” drivers by imposing pollution taxes and other restrictions on diesel drivers.
The Government is concerned that motorists were encouraged to buy diesel vehicles under Labour more than a decade ago because of concerns at the time over carbon emissions.
Mr Gove has also performed another U-turn on previous plans which could have seen restrictions on diesel cars across entire city and town centres, instead aiming to reduce emissions on specific roads.
In May, Mr Gove’s predecessor Andrea Leadsom proposed a “targeted” UK scrappage scheme for just 9,000 cars, with owners paid between £1,000 and £2,000 to scrap their car or have them fitted with new emission controls.
But that is thought to have been ruled out as too costly and would have provoked a backlash from motorists – including so-called “white van man” – and Tory backbenchers.
It is estimated that 48 of the most polluted roads are in London. Others have been identified in Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham, Southampton, Bristol, Bolton, Manchester, Bury, Coventry, Newcastle, Sheffield, Belfast, Cardiff and Middlesbrough.
The Government has been forced to come up with tougher measures to target diesel drivers after losing a case against environmental campaigners ClientEarth over breaches of EU emissions standards.
Instead of pollution taxes, councils will be urged to improve the flow of traffic with measures such as removing speed humps to prevent cars repeatedly slowing down and speeding up, which almost doubles the amount of harmful gasses they pump out.
Other options expected to be put forward include better sequencing of traffic lights to ensure drivers keep arriving at green lights rather than red ones if they drive within the speed limit.
Ministers will provide an extra £255m to help councils implement their plans, which could come into force as soon as 2020.