Islington council, after eight years of an emission-based parking charge designed to encourage its residents to switch to diesel, has now decided to introduce a surcharge on – diesel cars.
There’s something a bit annoying about that. You might think that those complaints are just from people who happen to live within the council boundaries and who drive diesel vehicles, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Although, to be fair, I should admit that Islington is my local council, and I do drive a diesel. But it’s not sour grapes. Far from it.
Islington’s justification for the new surcharge – £96 for most residents – is that diesels are “poisonous vehicles” which contribute to dozens of deaths in the borough each year. Indeed, by some bizarre statistical magic which I’d love to see chapter and verse on, they are apparently a contributory factor in 74% of deaths in Islington each year.
That kind of claim (which suggests walking down a street in the borough is three times more dangerous than being a chain-smoker) does no one any favours. But even if you accept the more reasonable science on diesel fumes being bad for air pollution – which seems quite well established – it doesn’t alter two facts.
First, the council actively encouraged the take-up of diesel vehicles with its previous tax regime. It’s not the only group to have made a volte-face after criticism of diesel – Boris Johnson has done the same thing for London as a whole – but it hasn’t given much room or notice to those of its residents who will find it an expensive business to change their vehicles.
Secondly, of Islington’s own fleet of vehicles (378 of them), 333 run on diesel. That’s more than 88% – and even with a bit of allowance for the fact that things like bin lorries have tended to be diesel-fuelled, it still looks amazingly hypocritical to start doubling the parking charges of residents when nearly nine out of 10 of your own vehicles run on “poison”.
The other oddity is that Islington has taken no account at all of the fact that the newest diesel vehicles bear no resemblance to those even 10 years old. Euro 6 cars, the new standard for diesels, capture 99% or particulates and about two-thirds of the NOx emitted.
What’s more, without the push towards diesel, no one thinks we would have achieved the one-third reduction in CO2 emissions from petrol that has been made in the last decade. But older, highly-polluting cars, will be charged the same to park as newer, cleaner ones. And if you don’t live (or at least park) in the borough, you could drive around all day long at no cost.
One more thing. Councils need to spend money raised from motoring and parking charges on transport. But if you raise a lot of money from parking and traffic charges, you could always cut that bit of your core budget and spend it elsewhere. Islington makes nearly £7 million a year from parking charges, and this new surcharge could add £1 million more. Yet, no matter how nasty diesel cars may be, the one time they indisputably don’t pollute is when they’re parked.