The UK just missed a big chance to cut harmful diesel pollution

Harmful fumes from diesel vehicles are a real problem in the UK but the government’s attempt to tackle this toxic issue in its budget is feeble, says Tim Chatterton

Criticism of the UK government’s weak stance on air quality has been growing in recent years. In the face of increasing evidence about the harm diesel engine pollution causes in particular, there was much anticipation that yesterday’s budget would tackle this head-on.

It never happened. Chancellor Philip Hammond just fiddled at the margins instead. His central policy, or at least the one garnering most attention, is an increase in first year vehicle tax for new diesel cars. Vans are exempt. As new vans are driven almost twice as far on average as new cars, this raised concerns. However, over seven times as many cars were sold in the UK in 2016 as vans, so in that sense it will hit the majority of new diesels.

The real problem is that this measure is unlikely to have any impact at all on vehicle use. Car tax is