London: A government plan to tackle air pollution in five major cities in Britain by 2020 will not be enough and more urgent action needs to be taken, lawmakers said on Wednesday.
Britain has some of the highest levels in Europe of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide, which is produced by diesel vehicles, and has already breached EU limits.
Last year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it would introduce so-called clean air zones in areas of Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020 in a bid to improve air quality.
Vehicles such as old buses, taxis, coaches and lorries will have to pay a charge to enter these zones but private passenger cars will not be charged.
Plans have already been announced to improve air quality in London by 2025, such as introducing an ultra-low emissions zone and retro-fitting buses and new taxis.
However, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs parliamentary committee said the schemes do not go far enough to tackle air pollution.
"Only five cities - Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton - will have new powers to charge polluting vehicles to enter new clean air zones," Neil Parish, a Conservative deputy who heads the committee, said in a statement.
"Councils in the dozens of other English cities currently exceeding EU pollution limits must also be given the option of using such powers if their communities support action," he added.
Following the admission by Volkswagen that it used software to cheat EU vehicle emissions tests, the UK government should ensure that vehicle company marketing claims are accurate and should work with the EU to establish tougher standards that cut vehicle emissions on the roads, the committee said.
The government should also consider introducing a diesel scrappage scheme for older vehicles and more modern farming practices to cut greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, it added.
"Tackling air quality is a priority for this government and our plans set out how we will achieve this through continued investment in clean technologies and by encouraging the uptake of low emission vehicles," a spokesman for Defra said in response to the report.
"Later this year we will also consult on a Clean Air Zone framework that will give local authorities the flexibility to make decisions about their own areas while ensuring a co-ordinated approach across the UK," he added.