What next for tackling air pollution in the UK?
In the recent consultation, despite saying that ‘tackling air pollution is a priority’, the UK Government has shown us they are not really up to the scale of the problem. The consultation has closed and responses have been submitted. However, this is not the end of the process and there are going to be plenty more opportunities to make sure they understand that we have the right to breathe clean air. So what is coming up next?
Air quality plans will be finalised
The consultation has closed and Defra now need to look at the responses and produce the final plans for submission to the European Commission by the end of this year. We will know then if they have listened to the calls for more ambition. We will hopefully also finally get to see the Technical Report that shows how they have actually calculated their revised projections for when the UK will comply with legal limits of air pollution.
The Chancellor will announce his Spending Review on 25 November. Advance notice has already been given that Defra, the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) – some of the key departments for reducing air pollution – have provisionally agreed to cut spending by 30 per cent over the next four years. We will have to wait and see what this will mean for the UK Government’s ambition ‘to make the UK a country with some of the very best air quality in the world.’
Is Defra up to the job?
The Food, Environment and Rural Affairs Select Committee will be holding an inquiry into Defra’s role in reducing air pollution. The Prime Minister seems to be a bit concerned, as according to the Financial Times he has recently appointed a trusted cabinet minister, Oliver Letwin, to chair a cross-party interdepartmental committee (paywall) to look at air pollution issues. This could hopefully be the start of the cross-departmental approach that the Healthy Air campaign has been calling for.
We are expecting more consultations. Defra have said that they will be consulting again on the Local Air Quality Management system before the end of the year. Under this system, Local Authorities measure and report on local air pollution and implement action plans to try to meet legal limits where they are breached.
Clean Air Zones will be defined
Defra will be setting out its thoughts on Clean Air Zones early in 2016. If done correctly this could be a great tool for helping cities and towns across the UK tackle not only road transport, as the main source of air pollution in many places, but also other important sources, such as construction machinery and boilers. This should set out a national framework but should be of particular interest to the cities named by Defra as being in specific need of setting up a Clean Air Zone: Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, London, Nottingham and Southampton. We will be expecting a consultation on this, of course.
Real world driving emissions
The Volkswagen scandal had a silver lining, which was to highlight the disparity between vehicle emissions in lab tests and real world driving conditions. Despite public anger, European Governments recently agreed to weaken the real driving emissions tests, indefinitely allowing cars to pollute more than the agreed standards. The fight is on to make sure that new procedures for testing real world driving emissions deliver the promised reductions in emissions.
Tackling air pollution across Europe
European Union (EU) governments will also be negotiating existing EU air quality legislation. The National Emission Ceilings Directive seeks to reduce air pollution emissions from across different sectors in the EU to protect people’s health. However, some governments and industries are not keen to play their part in delivering cleaner air for all.
London mayoral elections
London will be voting for the next Mayor of London in May 2016 and air pollution is gearing up to be one of the main election issues. The Mayor of London has unique powers to tackle air pollution in the capital but can also have a powerful role in lobbying the UK Government for action that could benefit all of the UK.
As you can see, we will be keeping busy over the next year. You can be kept up to date and find out how you can support the campaign throughout this by: