Government consults on possible changes to vehicle excise duty aimed at incentivising van drivers to switch to lower emission vehicles
The government has launched a consultation on vehicle tax reforms aimed at helping "white van man go green" by incentivising the uptake of cleaner vehicles to cut air pollution.
Launched today, the two month consultation sets out changes to vehicle excise duty (VED) rates for vans that are designed to "clamp down on pollution in urban areas" by making lower emission models more affordable for businesses.
At present, VED for vans is charged at a flat rate of £250, regardless of the vehicle's emissions.
Meanwhile, less than one in every 200 vans - or 0.4 per cent - bought in 2016-17 was an ultra low emission model, according to the government.
The consultation proposes creating an environment-based, graduated first year rate for new vans to encourage purchase of greener vehicles, as is already the case for cars.
After their first year of operation, all new vans would then be placed on a standard rate, the proposals state.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said air pollution was a "significant threat to public health and everyone must play their part in tackling its causes".
"Businesses have a crucial role in this," said Gove. "That's why today we are setting out plans to make low emission vans more affordable and asking businesses how we can help them break down the barriers to the use of lower emission machinery."
It comes alongside a separate call for evidence today looking at whether the reduced duty rate for red diesel is holding back the use of cleaner fuels by non-road vehicles and machinery such as cranes or generators used on construction sites.
Red diesel, which accounts for 15 per cent of all diesel consumption in the UK, currently benefits from a reduced rate of 11.14p per litre compared to the standard charge of 57.95p. However, the call for evidence excludes red diesel used for agricultural and fishing purposes.
Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Robert Jenrick, said the proposals demonstrated how the government could use the tax system to help encourage greener purchases.
"We want to help 'white van man' go green," said Jenrick. "We appreciate that buying a new van is a major investment for small businessmen and women and want to help make environmentally friendly choices more affordable."
The proposals come ahead of the latest version of the government's comprehensive Clean Air Strategy, which is expected to be published shortly and set out a wider range of actions on pollution from numerous sources. The updated plan follows repeated court cases, which have ruled the government's proposed measures inadequate and ordered Ministers to produce a more robust plan.
The UK is one of several countries, alongside France, Germany, Italy and Spain currently under pressure from the European Commission to improve national measures to tackle air pollution, or face action from Europe's top court.
The European Environment Bureau of green campaign groups today published documents it said had been obtained from several of the countries' governments setting out their air pollution plans, none of which it said contained the "credible, timely and effective" measures needed to meet EU standards.
It did not secure documents from the UK government, however, which reportedly argued there was a "strong public interest" in withholding the information.
EEB air policy officer Margherita Tolotto said the countries' plans were "all too little, too late". "The lack of transparency and the lack of effective proposals is unacceptable," she said. "All nine governments should now be sent to court to be held accountable for their failure."
The publication of the documents also came as a group of leading utilities, investors and NGOs wrote to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to call on him to invest more of the new EU budget in zero-emission mobility and power generation.
Aviva Investors, 2 Degrees Investing, Eurelectric, Ocean Energy Europe, Mirova Investing, among others, called for a specific focus on decarbonising the transport sector through the post-2020 budget.
"Electromobility, together with autonomous and shared vehicle use, will be key to tackle traffic congestion, air pollution, and to achieve Europe's climate targets," said Steve Waygood, chief responsible investment officer of Aviva Investors. "This will require major infrastructure investments and the EU must play a big role in steering public and private spending in a sustainable direction."
The UK government may be finally be preparing to tackle the anomaly that has seen polluting vans taxed at the same rate as their cleabner counterparts. But it seems that plenty more action is still required if the country is to tackle its air pollution crisis and avert the possibility of the Brexit negotiations being further complicated by the threat of fines from Brussels.
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