Government launches air quality consultation

Speak up, make your voice heard

On Saturday 12th September the Government launched its long awaited consultation on new draft air quality plans to tackle levels of nitrogen dioxide. The consultation, a result of ClientEarth’s legal victory at the Supreme Court, comes after years of asking the Government to take ambitious action to protect people’s health from the harmful impacts of air pollution.

The Government has produced an overall UK strategy for tackling nitrogen dioxide, and new plans for all of the 38 zones still not complying with legal limits. These limits should have been met in 2010. Our initial analysis raises a number of concerns:

  • Lack of supporting evidence: The Technical Report the Government has used to calculate the impact of proposed measures, and when the UK would therefore comply with legal limits, has not been released. This makes it difficult to analyse the actual impact of the proposed plans.
  • Lack of national action: The Government’s main approach relies on devolving responsibility to Local Authorities without any additional funding or powers. We believe there are a number of essential policy levers that would need to be applied at a national level to make an actual impact on air quality, which have not been properly addressed. The plans do include a proposal for a national framework of Clean Air Zones. This has not been fully developed, however, and it is likely to be left up to cities to decide whether to implement them. This could potentially result in a patchwork approach to tackling air pollution.
  • Uncertainty from the use of Euro Standards: The technical modelling appears to still be based on emissions factors that rely on the Euro Standard regulations delivering real world reductions in emissions. This is despite widespread acknowledgement, including from the Government itself, that the Euro Standards regime has failed to drive down emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx – the group of gases that include nitrogen dioxide) from vehicles. This means there is huge uncertainty over the modelling and, consequently, the new revised projections for compliance.
  • Lack of resources: Action on air pollution will require investment in sustainable transport measures, which will also have an impact on tackling climate change and bring additional benefits in improving health. Local authority budgets are already severely strained and the plans do not provide for additional funding, despite devolving more responsibility. In addition, the Spending Review is due to be announced after the consultation closes, leaving concerns around how it might affect action to tackle this serious public health problem.

The consultation runs for eight weeks until the 6th November. We will share our analysis before then but you can read through the main consultation document here and find out the details of the plans for the zone that you live in.

photo by: HowardLake

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