The Prime Minister has suggested diesel car owners could be helped by government ahead of the publication of its new air quality plan, as those in the capital were hit with tough new measures by the mayor.
Theresa May has hinted that the tough stance taken by London mayor Sadiq Khan, who yesterday announced an ultra low emission zone where diesel cars will be charged £12.50 will come into force in April 2019, would not be quite so stringent elsewhere.
Speaking on a trip to the Middle East, Theresa May said the government had no option but to get stricter on air pollution, after losing a High Court case last year. The government will have to publish a new air quality plan on 24 April.
May said: "We will be producing a new air quality plan - we've been required to do that by the courts. But I'm very conscious of the fact that past governments have encouraged people to buy diesel cars and we need to take that into account."
The comments signalled that the government also has not ruled out a scrappage scheme which would offer drivers of diesel vehicles tax incentives to trade in their cars for cleaner alternatives.
Former Labour chancellor Gordon Brown had introduced a lower vehicle tax in 2001 to encourage people to buy diesel cars as they were more economical and thought to be less harmful in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, though there has since been increasing concern over their emissions of nitrogen dioxide.
The European Commission sent the UK a "final warning" in February, saying the country had failed to tackle breaches of nitrogen dioxide limits in 16 areas (including the capital).
Khan's announcement that owners of diesel cars made before 2015 will be hit with a £12.50 daily charge to use their vehicle in the zone, has led to criticism from Uber, with the ride-hailing app saying it was unfair that black cabs were the only vehicle exempt from the charges.
Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in London, said that while the firm welcomed the introduction of the ultra low emission zone, "Londoners will, however, be astounded that the Mayor has exempted black cabs from measures which apply to everyone else".
He said: "This is particularly surprising since Transport for London’s own figures show black taxis are responsible for 18 per cent of road transport nitrogen oxide emissions in central London.”
City Hall said Transport for London was using its licensing powers to help clean up the capital's black cabs, and from 2018 all new ones will have to be zero emission capable.