Leading Article: Whitehall talks hot air on fumes

Share
Related Topics
It's official: breathing has been bad for you this week, except in Scotland. The Government helpfully warned us that the quality of what's getting into our lungs is "poor". But don't panic. Whitehall reassures us that "no areas are expected to register 'very poor'," which is not exactly reassuring.

Showing all the quick-fire reactions of a sloth, the Government is beginning to realise that a lot of air pollution is due to rising numbers of cars. The Government won't admit it, but there may well turn out to be a link between traffic fumes and the numbers of asthma sufferers.

In January, Messrs Mawhinney and Gummer produced a document promising action to "transform the prospects of getting rid of the discomfort vehicle pollution can cause". You know the kind of thing: Air Quality Management Areas, air quality assessments, local plans, consultation, databases, policy reviews, encouraging private and voluntary effort. Are you breathing more easily already?

The Government will "settle standards" for various nasty chemicals in the air. There will be "base" standards, or general goals we ought to aim for, and "alert thresholds", which will trigger "remedial action". But the paper was strangely coy about what that action would be.

There's nothing wrong with setting targets and leaving it to people to work out how to meet them. However, this only works if we know who is responsible, and if someone waves sticks at them when they fail. Yet when the air in London or Birmingham reaches high-octane standard, the only penalty the Government imposes is to issue a press release, as it did this week, advising motorists to "use cars responsibly".

Here's what the two ministers did not announce: taxing diesel-engined cars and buses more heavily and cutting taxes on newer, cleaner engines. Nor did they offer cash to fund a national programme for new cycle-ways in every city, although these are proven successes in many European cities. Road tax cuts for electric cars didn't make it into the paper, although even Tory Westminster council has experimented with free parking for them. The paper didn't give individuals the right to bring court cases against the owners of heavily polluting vehicles. Somehow road pricing - which has had more trailers than a Disney video - and tradeable pollution rights for factories didn't get into a major policy paper from a government that supposedly looks for market solutions.

Why were these policies so conspicuously absent? After all, many involve tax cuts, which the Government says it wants. Maybe the Government prefers making single high-profile tax cuts - for example, in income tax rates - to more effective ones that make for smaller headlines.

So, until the Government takes the problem seriously, remember to use your car responsibly, in terror that someone with a clipboard in your local Air Quality Management Area may be taking notes on you.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £24,000

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?