Improving air quality is a major issue for Government both central and local. We currently are meeting the limits of most air pollutants. The one we are struggling to meet is the target for nitrogen dioxide. Anyone who thinks that this is a solely British problem needs to look at 16 other countries in the European Union where this is also a problem.
This is the case, for example, in Henley and Watlington where nitrogen dioxide exceeds recommended levels. In both places, and elsewhere, the principle cause of nitrogen dioxide emissions is transport. Across the country this accounts for 80% of emissions. That is why we are spending over £2 billion on green transport initiatives. This includes supporting the early market for ultra-low emission vehicles in the period to 2020. This government has been at the forefront of action in the European Union to secure more accurate, real-world emissions testing for diesel cars. EU standards for diesel vehicles have not delivered the necessary reductions in nitrogen dioxide.
To help resolve the problem central Government set up a local authority grant fund. The purpose of the grant is to provide support to local authorities in England to develop and implement measures to improve local air quality. The grant awards at least £3 million of funding to English local authorities.
We have also launched a consultation on limiting emissions from diesel generators which finishes on 8 February. A major £35 million package to boost the uptake of ultra-low emission cars and scooters was unveiled by Transport Minister John Hayes in October. This alone will see thousands more electric vehicle charge points installed on streets and at workplaces across the UK. It is worth bearing in mind that the number of new ultra-low emission vehicles registered rose by 250% in just 2 years.
In South Oxfordshire, the District Council commissioned consultants to look at how vehicle emissions could be reduced. It has also produced an Air Quality Action Plan to bring about air quality improvements. Ultimately the aim must be to ensure that the district is founded on sustainable development which balances social, economic and environmental considerations and includes transport.
In Henley, input is required locally to ascertain what practically can be done and I look forward to supporting actions proposed. This is not an easy problem to resolve and we must avoid simplistic solutions or ones which too adversely affect the area. Similarly in Watlington the efforts we are making to limit access to the B4009 for heavy vehicles from the M40 will have an effect.
Dealing with air quality is a devolved matter both nationally and at the level of local district councils. Government is there to set the overall policy but it is for local councils to implement measures. This is of course something in which I keep a close interest and we are all committed to tackling this issue. Central Government is doing its bit to encourage low-emission vehicles, for example. But this is a problem in which we all must share.