Cleaner freight deliveries will play an important role in helping the government achieve the aims set out in its draft national air quality strategy launched this week.

A series of national and local measures have been combined to create a UK action plan to bring levels of nitrogen dioxide within EU legal limits by 2020, or by 2025 in Greater London.

Road transport remains the dominant source of pollution in areas where the UK is exceeding European legal NO2 limits, producing around 80% of harmful emissions.

This is despite an average 15% reduction in roadside NO2 emissions since 2010.

However significantly more action is now needed to reach EU air quality compliance, particularly in major cities such as London, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Southampton and Derby.

Plans released for consultation this week outline how new, green technology can be used to create communities where people want to live and work, boosting the economy and make the UK a world leader in low-emission technology.

Local authorities facing particular challenges are encouraged to explore action such as creating Clean Air Zones, introducing low-emission buses and taxis, and using intelligent data to inform new road layouts and tackle congestion.

Central and local government will also be incentivised through funding and new procurement frameworks to ensure they lead by example and include low-emission vehicles among their own urban fleets and insist on greener vehicles in tender documents.

Freight grants would remain available to encourage modal shift to rail or water where possible, which has so far removed 800,000 lorry journeys from the UK’s roads annually.

Further air quality benefits are also expected as operators continue the move towards Euro V1 vehicles on their fleets, or the retrofitting of clean technology to older vehicles.

In addition, the data continuing to be gathered from the Low Carbon Truck Trial launched in 2010 will help the government understand the environmental benefits of running natural gas and dual-fuel HGVs, as well as establishing a national network of refuelling points.

Further trials specifically into developing a test protocol for measuring the greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions from dual-fuel vehicles (gas/diesel) or dedicated gas HGVs are also planned for 2015/2016.

The government's 10-year longer semi-trailer trial of 14.6m and 15.65m vehicles will also continue, with revised estimations of carbon emissions saved by the end of the trial now standing at 3,000 tonnes. To date, 1,614 of the allocated 1,800 longer trailers are already on the road.

Finally, to encourage uptake of alternative-fuel vehicles by operators that may have been put off by the weight penalty the technology attracts, the government will now seek to allow an extra one tonne for HGVs using alternative powertrains. It will launch a consultation later this year to extend the new permitted weight levels allowed for international journeys introduced to EU Directive to 96/53/EC in May this year, to domestic operations.

The government will also look to encourage the use of urban consolidation centres and last-mile deliveries on low-emission vehicles in major towns and cities.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "The move towards embracing clean technology – including the government’s ambition that almost every car and van on our roads will be zero emission by 2050 – will be incentivised by at least £200m of government grants for plug-in cars and vans and £50m of support for local authorities and transport operators to convert their taxis and clean up bus fleets. The move will also generate new jobs and significantly boost our growing economy."

A consultation on the draft air quality strategy will run until 6 November.