Leader comment: Diesel rethink must be fair to owners

If you own a diesel car, and currently find yourself confused and not a little alarmed by news reports suggesting your vehicle could be scrapped because it pollutes the environment, then you are quite entitled to be wondering how on earth this situation has developed.

Diesel engines emit polluting by-products which are major risks to health.

In 2001, we were given a financial incentive to buy diesel cars to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and this proved so effective that the number of diesel vehicles on UK roads almost quadrupled, now totalling four in ten cars in the UK.

This would sound like a successful environmental policy implemented by central government, if it wasn’t for the inconvenient fact, which has since emerged, that diesel produces four times more nitrogen dioxide and 22 times more particulates than a petrol engine. Both of these by-products are major risks to health.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

The pro-diesel policy was rolled out when Labour were in power, and unusually for a political blunder, there has been little attempt by to defend. Two senior Labour figures have said recently that the decision to back diesel was “wrong”.

It is expected that the Conservative government will put forward a proposal for a “targeted” diesel scrappage scheme, with owners living in high pollution areas receiving compensation to encourage them to give up or retrofit highly polluting vehicles. The omens are not good for diesel car owners: a previous scheme eight years ago allowed a vehicle to be scrapped for a discount of just £2,000 on a new car.

Ultimately, diesel car owners will have to accept that if their vehicles are high polluters, then this harmful effect on the environment cannot continue. But a ‘scrapping’ scheme must be reasonable and fair, particularly in light of the poor guidance given by government. No-one should be penalised by the current government for simply following the environmental policy of a previous government.

And before there is a rush to judgment on cars, government officials should consider all diesel vehicles. Transport expert David Begg has pointed out that tackling buses, which run all day, would be far more effective than scrapping cars.

Diesel vehicles may be on the way out, but this process should be phased, and embarked upon after thorough investigation of all options. No-one wants to hear a government spokesman, ten years from now, admitting that with hindsight, a hasty decision taken in 2017 was “wrong”.