This week saw the UK Government’s red diesel consultation close after a two-month period. We won’t know the outcomes of the consultation until the Autumn Budget in November.

At Dearman, we have long called for ministers to end the perverse red diesel subsidy for transport refrigeration units (TRUs). TRUs can use red diesel since they’re classed as non-road mobile machinery (NRMM)- even though they’re used only on roads.

One thing’s for sure- there is now greater awareness of the polluting nature of diesel TRUs. The UK’s two biggest cities, London and Manchester, have led calls for a transition to cleaner TRUs. Leeds has recently run a government-funded trial, with Dearman, to measure the emissions from diesel TRUs compared to a zero-emission equivalent. Their local authorities have long been hindered by not having the legal powers to regulate NRMM- but that’s soon to change.

The Mayor of London’s transport strategy had urged “Government to introduce new legislation to ensure that all emissions from NRMM can be effectively reduced”. Manchester’s air quality action plan wants to “look at the alternatives to Diesel Transport Refrigeration Units (TRUs) to ultimately achieve and promote zero-emission transport refrigeration.”

And so in May 2018, Environment Secretary Michael Gove published his Clean Air Strategy, and it included this nugget:

“We will cut emissions from non-road mobile machinery and give local authorities tough new powers to control the use of such machinery where it is causing an air pollution problem.”

This was a big win for the air quality teams at the Greater London Authority and at Transport for Greater Manchester. Where the major cities go, the rest of the country will undoubtedly follow. That means diesel TRU operators need to start shifting to clean TRUs now.

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More legislation, less subsidised diesel?

Major fleet operators will also have picked up the strong message sent out by HM Treasury. On launching his call for evidence on red diesel use for NRMM, Treasury minister Robert Jenrick MP said:

“Public health is at risk due to the use of red diesel in towns and cities. So we are looking at how we can level the playing field on red diesel and exploring how we can encourage users to ditch it.”

The Treasury and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have been clear that the intention behind the call for evidence is to scale back some red diesel use (except for agriculture and fishing).

They will particularly want to reflect on areas where there are clean technologies which are available on the market and affordably so- transport refrigeration is one of those areas. And of course, they will want to be seen to be actively supporting the government’s clean growth agenda.

Ministers have commendably made a range of investments to support the development and promotion of clean technologies. Continuing to subsidise diesel undercuts these clean technologies and undermines government’s own ambitions on clean growth.

The Autumn Budget will be a chance for ministers to make a real statement that they are no longer prepared to subsidise air pollution, and that they are giving a level playing field to British companies that are innovating to preserve and improve our environment.

David Rivington
Director of Special Projects