Falling diesel price ‘exacerbates’ UK air quality problem

Diesel fuel prices at the pump continue to fall and are set to be cheaper on average than unleaded petrol for the first time in 14 years, prompting concern from air quality campaigners.

Diesel prices at the pump are falling below unleaded petrol for the first time since 2001

Diesel prices at the pump are falling below unleaded petrol for the first time since 2001

According to market analysis from UK motor services company RAC, average diesel prices are now at 118.98p per litre, with unleaded standing at 117.24p per litre.

In addition, the wholesale diesel price has been lower than petrol since May 27 2015, RAC said, meaning there is a good prospect that diesel prices will soon drop below petrol at the pumps.

The news also comes as several supermarkets – including Asda, Morrisons and Tesco – announced cuts of around 2p per litre to diesel fuel, and RAC says there is still scope for a further 4p per litre to come off the pump price in the coming weeks.

RAC welcomed the decision of major supermarkets to cut their diesel prices and said it hoped more retailers would follow suit in order to give motorists the chance to benefit from the lower wholesale prices, which are reportedly the result of more refined product being available on the market.

RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams said: “We are now well on the way to seeing a UK fuel price flip – where the average price of diesel is, quite rightly, cheaper than unleaded at the pumps. It will also mean that the millions of families setting off on their summer break won’t have to pay quite as much when filling up the car.”

Mark Todd, petrol director for retailer Morrisons – which has 336 petrol stations across the UK – said: “This is a milestone in motoring and many younger drivers won’t remember the last time that diesel prices were lower than unleaded. While we are cutting diesel prices today, we will continue to look for opportunities to pass on savings on unleaded as soon as we can.”

Diesel reliance

There are twice as many petrol cars on UK roads than diesels, but more than 50% of new cars and light commercial vehicles sold are diesel-powered, which RAC said shows “that we are increasingly relying on diesel for both business and private use”.

However, diesel vehicles have faced mounting criticism from campaigners over their nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions, and the news that diesel fuel costs are falling comes as the government prepares to launch its new UK air quality plan to meet EU NO2 limits in several areas.

Clean Air in London campaigner Simon Birkett said of the diesel fuel price fall: “From a health perspective it is not good news.”

He told AirQualityNews.com: “It is actually quite bad timing for the government as they are trying to put together an NO2 plan over the next five to six weeks or so. The more the prices fall, the more they will have to put together something stronger to deal with diesel vehicles. So it could actually lead to the inevitable ban of diesel vehicles much sooner.

“It is not very sensible of the government to let diesel prices go down. It exacerbates the problem they have.”

Car tax

The news of a continuing diesel price fall also follows the Chancellor’s Summer Budget 2015, in which plans to reform Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) to charge motorists based on a car’s carbon emissions were announced earlier this month (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Mr Birkett said the focus on just carbon emissions rather than air quality in the proposed VED car tax changes favoured diesel drivers at a time when the government was simultaneously putting together a plan to cut NO2 levels.

He said of the Budget: “I was disappointed because Boris [Johnson] and others were looking to do something and the government just completely ignored that. The government is obsessed with CO2 but ignores NO2. We need a technology neutral approach, but the VED change proposals only favour low CO2 technology, including diesel.”