Government’s Guidance for Clean Air Zones fails to target the biggest polluters, campaigners warn

Greener Journeys
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  • Campaigners urge Government to take more decisive action to curb car use
  • Official guidance directs councils to be lenient on biggest polluters and penalise buses instead
  • Diesel cars and vans are responsible for 71% of emissions v 6% for buses and coaches

Plans to tackle air pollution will have a minimal impact because councils have been directed to avoid tackling the biggest source of emissions, campaigners warn today.

Official guidance on the implementation of Clean Air Zones directs local councils to target buses as the top priority, followed by HGVs, then vans, with private cars only to be targeted as a last resort.

But with 41% of emissions from road transport coming from diesel cars and 30% from diesel vans – compared with 6% for buses and coaches – these recommendations will only scrape the surface of Britain’s air quality crisis, which is causing 50,000 early deaths a year.

In an open letter to Government, Greener Journeys, the sustainable transport group, has warned that current guidance for councils on CAZs will fail without more decisive action to curb car use and encourage a shift towards buses and other cleaner modes of transport.

It calls on the Government to provide clear instructions to local authorities on how to make the biggest impact on air quality, and to ensure that the biggest polluters are targeted as a priority. The letter also urges central and local government to work with the bus sector to support the upgrading of older vehicles to clean “Euro VI” standard, and for Clean Air Zones to be designed to encourage modal switch from car to public transport.

Real-world testing of modern, diesel buses – and those retrofitted to this standard – demonstrates that they are 95% cleaner than previous models and emit fewer emissions overall than the average Euro 6 diesel car despite having 15 to 20 times the capacity.

Cars are also the principle cause of urban congestion, which in turn results in lower traffic speeds and higher emissions.  In nose to tail traffic, NOx emissions are four times greater than they are in free flow traffic.

“The public is facing a public health emergency. Air pollution is causing 50,000 early deaths per year in this country and choking the cities in which we live and work,” the letter says.

“The priority for action must reflect both vehicles’ contributions to NOx emissions and the availability of suitable alternatives – each clean bus can provide transport for between 40 and 80 passengers directly into town centres…If ever there was a moment to harness the potential of the bus, it’s now. Let’s not miss this opportunity.”

Today’s warning comes as the Government faces growing pressure to tackle air pollution, with 38 of England’s 43 air quality zones breaching EU legal limits for NOx emissions.

Local authorities have until next month to publish draft plans for tackling pollution in their areas and it is widely expected that many will penalise older, diesel buses while sparing private cars and vans from any penalties.

Speaking at the UK Bus Summit today, Claire Haigh, the Chief Executive of Greener Journeys, will criticise Government action to tackle air pollution, describing its response as “slow, piecemeal and not evidence based.”

“It has taken two High Court Rulings and fearless scrutiny from ClientEarth to ensure the Government takes this crisis seriously. And still, the Government’s plans stop short of meaningful action that will immediately address this public health crisis. Having devolved responsibility, the Government has effectively passed the buck, leaving politically difficult decisions to local councils.”

She will add: “The Government must show leadership and provide clear guidance to local authorities on which vehicles should be targeted as a priority in CAZs, reflecting actual NOx contributions. This means tougher action on diesel cars and vans, and encouraging people to switch to more sustainable transport. Buses are cleaner, they reduce congestion and as such must be front and centre as we seek to improve the UK’s air quality.”

The latest analysis from consultants KPMG finds that every £1 spent on local bus infrastructure delivers more than £8 in wider benefits to bus passengers, other road users, local businesses and the wider community.

For further information

Greener Journeys Press Office or +44 (0) 7912 799543

For a copy of the report please contact or download here after embargo:

Notes to Editors

 About Greener Journeys

Greener Journeys is a campaign dedicated to encouraging people to make more sustainable travel choices. It is a coalition of the UK’s leading public transport organizations, user groups and supporters.  It aims to reduce CO2 emissions from transport by encouraging people to switch some of their car journeys to bus or coach instead. Switching from car to bus for just one journey a month would mean one billion fewer car journeys on our roads and would save 2 million tonnes of CO2 every year.  For more information visit

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