Is your council a clean-air hypocrite?

An average of 91.6 per cent of council vehicles use diesel, with London still running 724 non-ULEZ-compliant diesel vehicles

The vast majority of the 66,000 vehicles operated by UK councils run on diesel, Auto Express has discovered, with authorities admitting that no “viable electric alternative” to the fuel exists in “the vast majority” of cases. And, in areas where emission zones are operational or planned, council vehicles often breach the limits set or proposed.

A total of 66,617 vehicles are operated by the 320 local authorities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that responded to our freedom of information requests, with 91.6 per cent running on diesel, and 62 council fleets consisting entirely of diesel vehicles.

• Diesel ban? The future of diesel cars in the UK

Local authority fleets comprise everything from bin lorries and gritters to community minibuses and park-maintenance pick-up trucks – vital machines that keep the UK moving. But as more and more councils move to penalise or even ban diesel vehicles, the true scale of the UK’s reliance on the fuel can now be set out.

Bristol City Council, for example, recently announced plans to ban all private diesel cars from its city centre. But of the council’s own fleet of 453 vehicles, 369 (81.5 per cent) run on diesel, and councillors recently confirmed plans to purchase 64 new diesel vans.

In London, where drivers of pre-Euro 6 diesel vehicles are charged £12.50 to enter the city centre ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), and the mayor, Sadiq Khan, has blasted diesel cars as “dangerous to health”, 89 per cent of the 4,844 vehicles operated by London councils run on diesel. At least 724 (15 per cent) are pre-Euro 6 diesels that are not ULEZ-compliant.

Northern Irish councils are most heavily dependent upon diesel, with the seven out of 12 responding councils revealing 98.6 per cent of vehicles there run on the fuel. Scottish councils are least dependent upon diesel and have the highest proportion of electric vehicles but even there, nine out of 10 council vehicles run on diesel.

Responding to our analysis, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents English and Welsh authorities, said that “councils are eager to switch to electric vehicles or low-emission alternatives where possible,” but “the vast majority of the types of specialist vehicles councils operate do not have viable electric alternatives because they don’t exist”.

A Spokesperson for COSLA, which represents Scottish councils, said: “The figures provided show two things. First, a shift away from what has traditionally been a diesel fleet. Second, because of this, progress is being made towards decarbonising Local Authorities’ fleets.”

COSLA added that “this shift is likely to span a number of years” but that local government is “committed to working towards that goal with Transport Scotland and our public sector partners.”

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said it “has a legal duty to improve our air quality,’’ adding that full details of the city’s clean air zone plan “have yet to be established.” He continued: “How the council’s fleet is used in future will be influenced by the final scheme put in place, but the aim is to reduce air pollution and establish Bristol as a carbon-neutral city.’’

CountryvehiclesDieselPetrolElectricEngland44,03040,216 (91.3%)2,343 (5.3%)1,023 (2.3%)Scotland14,70713,290 (90.3%)678 (4.6%)715 (4.9%)Wales6,4416,120 (95%)201 (3.1%)86 (1.3%)N. Ireland 1,4391,419 (98.6%)6 (0.4%)11 (0.7%)Total66,61761,045 (91.6%)3,228 (4.8%)1,835 (2.7%)EV-friendly councils

Diesel-dependent councils do also run a high proportion of electric vehicles, with the 1,835 council-run EVs equating to 2.75 per cent of fleet totals. For comparison, the 94,000 EVs registered in the UK represent just 0.25 per cent of vehicles. Of councils with larger fleets (more than 20 vehicles) North Somerset has the highest EV proportion, with 36 per cent of its 95 vehicles being pure electric. Responding councils said they ran just 306 hybrids and 118 PHEVs.

What does a typical council fleet look like?

The largest local authority fleet is Scotland’s 1,428-strong Fife council, but the average fleet has 208 vehicles. Geographical variances mean there is no ‘typical’ fleet, but Wiltshire council’s 442 vehicles paint an illustrative picture. Of these, 428 are diesel, five are petrol, three are electric and six are hybrids. Wiltshire runs 32 cars, 65 gritters, 132 HGVs, 154 light goods vehicles, 49 minibuses, seven tractors and three fifties fire engines. The latter are not the only curios; Cardiff City runs a 1963 Rolls-Royce and a Villager golf cart.

Emission zone/diesel penalty councils

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