Local air quality management consultation

We are asking as many people as possible to object to government’s proposals which would remove the need for local authorities to monitor air quality and declare areas where it is a problem. We’ve set out why we’re worried and what you can do here.

In case you want more detail on the background, here it is:

Air pollution is a severe public health problem in the UK

It causes heart attacks, strokes, respiratory disease and children living near busy roads have been shown to grow up with underdeveloped lungs. 29,000 premature deaths are caused by poor air quality each year.

Current levels are illegal

The UK is failing to meet EU regulations in 40 of 43 zones in the UK. 16 zones across the UK do not predict that they will meet the legal limits until as late as 2020 – in the case of London, 2025.

How do we know how polluted our air is?

There are 73 monitoring sites in England which form a national network, and this data is used to report levels to the EU.

These are supplemented by over 600 monitoring sites across England which are run by local authorities to identify places where the legal limits are not being met and declare Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs).  There are currently 520 AQMAs in England.

An action plan is developed for each AQMA which sets out actions needed to bring air quality within legal limits. AQMAs allow the public to find information on the quality of their air, and encourage them to participate in local decision making. AQMAs are also important in informing planning decisions so that new developments do not worsen air quality where it is already a problem.

What needs to change?

There are definitely problems with the current system, which needs to be simpler with clearer roles and responsibilities. One of the biggest problems is that the current system was designed to allow local authorities to deal with local hot spots but it is now being required to address much bigger problems than it was set up for.

What is being proposed by Defra?

Instead of proposing sensible changes to the system to make it more efficient, Defra’s preferred option (Option 3) is to completely remove the duty for local authorities to monitor local air quality and designate AQMAs.

This is based on an absurd assumption that by removing the duty to measure something it will magically free up resources to take action on it. We all know that’s not how things work. Removing the duty to monitor will only mean that local authorities, faced with severe budget cuts, will simply close local monitoring sites and make local air quality officers redundant.

Here’s a very brief outline of the 4 proposals:

Option 1: Limited changes to the current system
Option 2: Reduce some reporting requirements
Option 3: Remove the duty to monitor local air quality or make and amend AQMAs
Option 4: Scrap all local air quality management duties.

None of the options are acceptable but 3 and 4 are particularly damaging.

Why does it matter?

We need increased action at all levels from EU to local to reduce levels of pollution to levels which don’t harm our health. None of these options represent progress. The last two would only serve to hide the problem and would result in an increase of harmful pollutants in our air.

Adding insult to injury, Defra are only allowing 8 weeks for this consultation, mainly over the school holidays. This is certainly not an ideal recipe to ensure maximum input from the wide range of relevant stakeholders. The closing date is 13th September.

See the full consultation here.

See our consultation response here.

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