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Environment and Air Pollution

The Freedom for Drivers Foundation has been very concerned with the misinformation that has been spread by the national media about the impact of air pollution from vehicles on the health of the population. We believe it is not a major health crisis but simply a major health scare fed to a gullible public by journalists wanting a story.

The promotion of such stories has also led to Government over-reaction and a number of local councils proposing "Clean Air Zone" schemes aimed at restricting some vehicles from entering some roads or charging them extra to do so in the name of reducing pollution. London is in the forefront of charging drivers using pollution as an excuse (e.g. from the ULEZ), but many other cities are planning similar schemes.


The prime objective often appears to be simply the desire to extract money from car drivers and other vehicle users.

We have published a full analysis of the issues that actually gives the truth about the claims made for air pollution, and rebuts many of the allegations. It is entitled “Air Quality and Vehicles: The Truth” and can be downloaded from here: Air-Quality Please read it. But here’s a summary of the contents:

Is there actually a public health crisis? The simple answer is NO. The evidence does not support such claims.

In reality air quality has been steadily improving and will continue to do so from technical improvements to vehicles. Meanwhile life expectancy has been increasing. There is no public health crisis!

Life expectancy might be improved slightly, for example by a few days if all air pollution was removed. But air pollution does not just come from vehicles but from many other sources of human activity such as heating, industrial processes, farming, building, cooking and domestic wood burners. Only about 50% comes from transport. The air outside is typically cleaner than in people's own homes or in offices and that is where they spend most of the time.

Removing all air pollution would be economically very expensive and leave us with no transport (buses, trains, aeroplanes or cars) and also stop all deliveries of food and other goods. You would not want to live in such a world.

We give all the evidence on our claims above in the aforementioned paper.

But the FFDF does accept that air pollution does need to be improved, particularly in certain locations, and we recognise public concern about it. However, we argue that measures taken to improve matters should be proportionate and cost effective. There needs to be a proper cost/benefit analysis before imposing restrictions or charges.

There are many measures that can be used to reduce vehicle emissions without restricting motorists or imposing major extra costs on them.

There is certainly no need to panic over air pollution!

Previous comments we have made on the air quality issue, including detailed analysis of the London ULEZ are given below:

The budget figures for the ULEZ disclosed by TfL (after an FOI act request), our own estimates of the revenue which were wildly different, and the cost/benefit ratio, are contained in this document: Cost-of-the-ULEZ. Subsequently TfL disclosed some more estimates of the likely income and operating costs of the ULEZ which appear more realistic. An updated note on that subject was issued in January 2019 here: Profits-from-the-ULEZ.

The financial forecasts on the expansion of the ULEZ to the North/South Circular were given in this blog post in April 2020: ULEZ-Expansion.  It is clear then that it made no financial sense at all.

In 2021, the cost of the expanded ULEZ rose again to £130 million - see this blog article: Latest-Costs.

The initial ULEZ in central London made minimal impact on air pollution - see this blog Minimal Impact.

For two good articles on the negative benefits of the ULEZ expansion by Dr. Michael Simon see: Costs-vs-Benefits and Uzeless-Expansion

An interesting paper was produced by Neil Oliver on the "Social Costs of Air Pollution from Cars in the UK" in August 2017. It can be read here: Social-Costs-Cars

A note on the data on life expectancy published by the ONS in December 2018 which shows that air pollution in London is certainly not a major health crisis and in fact it helps you to live in the most polluted central London boroughs is present here: Life-Expectancy

As air pollution is a hot topic at present, there are likely to be more articles on the London Blog - use the blog search to find more.


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