VoteClimate: Zero-emission Buses and Air Quality in Sheffield - 5th December 2023

Zero-emission Buses and Air Quality in Sheffield - 5th December 2023

Here are the climate-related sections of speeches by MPs during the Commons debate Zero-emission Buses and Air Quality in Sheffield.

Full text:

11:00 Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)

That this House has considered zero emission buses and air quality in Sheffield.

I thank the hon. Member for securing the debate. The motion refers to zero emission buses: such buses, manufactured in Northern Ireland by Wrightbus, were launched in Oxford only two weeks ago. The fleet of 21 StreetDeck Electroliners, the world’s first efficient, double-decker electric buses, was launched as part of the contribution to net zero. Does the hon. Member agree that there is scope for Northern Ireland to pave the way across the United Kingdom in terms of electric bus contracts? For Sheffield, they are the answer to all his prayers.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s raising this issue, because public transport is the key. It is a major solution to a lot of problems, including clean air. The strategy appears to be all over the place, and retrofitting diesel buses is not the answer. The Government have the ZEBRA—zero-emission bus regional areas—scheme for public transport, but I understand that of the 4,000 buses promised, fewer than half have been made, and 570 have been built by companies outside the UK. That worries me, because I think most of them should be built by UK companies.


11:16 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)

I will come to the hon. Member’s point. The retrofitting programme was only ever going to be an interim scheme, because those were the buses we had at that moment. As basically all other hon. Members have said, the ultimate long-term ambition is to go to zero-emission buses, for reasons of both climate change and air pollution. In the national bus strategy in 2020, the Government committed to 4,000 zero-emission buses; 1,600 of them are on the road at the moment. We have been pushing that in a variety of ways. We are also committed to announcing a date for the phasing out of non-zero-emission buses, which will be done in the near future.

There are two schemes for zero-emission buses at the moment. First, there was ZEBRA 1, which provided £270 million of funding. The beneficiaries included Sheffield, which got four buses, which will start in January, and the South Yorkshire metropolitan area, which got 27 zero-emission buses. We then opened ZEBRA 2. I know that the hon. Member for Sheffield Central wrote to one of my predecessors expressing interest from Sheffield in that scheme, and that Sheffield has lodged expressions of interest, which is great. The deadline is 15 December. I cannot announce the results, because the applications are not in yet.

On the request from the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), we want to act as quickly as possible. I will certainly urge officials to announce the outcomes of the bid as quickly as possible because, as I said, we want to act quickly for reasons of both climate change and air pollution.

The hon. Members for Sheffield Central and for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) mentioned hills and the challenges they pose for battery buses. For longer ranges—there are buses in rural areas that have to go far longer distances—hydrogen buses may turn out to be more suitable than battery buses. However, I know that battery technology is advancing very rapidly. If we compare the debate now with a few years ago and five years ago, certainly from a manufacturer’s point of view, there is a lot more emphasis on batteries as the ultimate solution, rather than hydrogen. The price of batteries has dropped by 90% since 2010 and the range is increasing by about 10% a year—it has increased by about 45% over the last four years. Hopefully, those technological improvements will continue and help us to decarbonise all forms of transport in cost-effective ways.

This technological transition creates an awful lot of opportunities in different sectors, including hydrogen. I do not like the phrase “green jobs”, because it has become a bit of a cliché, but these are green jobs. They are real jobs, they really exist, and they are often highly skilled. I have been meeting many companies that are entering this sector or developing the new decarbonised transport sector, if we want to call it that, and there are huge opportunities. The more rapidly we develop as a country, the more we can use it as an opportunity internationally as well for exports. If we solve the problems with hydrogen buses, for example, and work out how to make them work, how to power them and so on, I am sure that there will be an export opportunity for UK plc as well.


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