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Government clean air plans ‘woefully inadequate’

Katie Coyne15/06/2017 - 13:21

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The government is failing to get to grips with air quality
The government is failing to get to grips with air quality

A national response is needed to tackle poor air quality and the Government must do better says the CIEH on National Clean Air Day.

Thursday 15 June 2017 is the UK’s first National Clean Air Day (NCAD) and has been organized by environmental charity Global Action Plan with undisclosed funding from Defra Air Quality Grant Scheme 2016-17.

Six local authorities have received funding for clean air events and other local authorities and organisations are also running their own activities.

Every year dirty air contributes to 40,000 premature deaths and many UK cities exceed safe and legal air pollution limits. Just five days into the start of this year, for example, London broke its annual air pollution limit for nitrogen dioxide. 

NCAD is aimed at giving information to people on how they can avoid or reduce the impact of air pollution on them and their family, and also how to help by reducing the amount of pollution they create. 

The campaign is running with the slogan: ‘if you act today, we’ll all benefit today’.

While the initiative is welcomed by the CIEH – which has highlighted local authority best practice in a number of case studies - it has warned that it is not enough.

CIEH warned that the Government needs to take decisive action including creating a new national Clean Air Act. It has also strongly criticized the Government’s air quality plans saying it unfairly shifts the burden to solve the problem to local authorities, while abdicating responsibility.

The organisation added that the Government has failed to recognise poor air quality is a national issue and therefore requires action from central government. CIEH is concerned that local authorities are being set up for failure.

CIEH head of policy Tony Lewis said: ‘Poor air quality is a major national issue and we’re right behind the first ever National Clean Air Day, raising awareness of all of the hard work undertaken by our members and the wider profession to tackle air quality.

‘We have also used the day to highlight our concerns with the Government’s proposed air quality plans, which are woefully inadequate to tackle air pollution and place far too much responsibility on the shoulders of our over-stretched local authorities. 

‘The Government has failed to realise that we need a national response and their plans are devoid of substantive proposals, timescales for addressing the key challenges, clarity around targets or even availability of resources to support necessary actions.’

He added: ‘We stand on the cliff-edge of a national public health emergency and these plans are devoid of substantive proposals, timescales for addressing the key challenges, clarity around targets or even availability of resources to support necessary actions.

CIEH is concerned that the Government is relying on the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) approach yet the initiative has only been piloted in five English cities and not for a long enough period to demonstrate success. It could also result in people taking alternative routes from congested zones and creating pollution in other areas, as it says has happened in Air Quality Management Areas, similar to CAZs.

It also argued that The Government’s cost/benefit analysis failed to consider the burden on the NHS and the health implications on people and local communities, concentrating solely on business impacts.

CIEH argued that an incoherent and inconsistent approach could result nationally by leaving local authorities to come up with their own innovative solutions.

It said the Government has overlooked particulate matter as the single biggest contributor to premature deaths and ill-health, and placed too much emphasis on reducing NO2 emissions.

CIEH argued that achieving NO2 compliance in the short term and wider actions needed to improve air quality, zero emissions, and achieve a low carbon economy in the longer term need to be separated out. 

It has put forward a number of proposals it would like to see the Government adopt. These include: funding support to tackle areas of high pollution and high footfall; supporting local authorities in knowledge and air quality monitoring and health related data; reducing the number of vehicles on the road; removing tax incentives on diesel and transferring them to Ultra Low Emission Vehicles and Zero Emission Vehicles infrastructure development; and better provision for sustainable travel.

Mr Lewis said: ‘Air pollution does not recognise boundaries. All regions, towns and cities and even rural areas are affected by air pollution, leading to thousands of premature deaths every year and contributing to major illnesses. Air pollution, therefore, costs businesses and the health care services billions annually.

‘This is not a political issue. We urgently need the Government to devise a robust plan, which should also include provisions for a new Clean Air Act, incorporating a national solution that is consistent, shares responsibility and ensures better funding – before it’s too late.’

The six cities with NCAD funding include Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Southampton but all UK cities can benefit from free guides and toolkits. Activities are planned in London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. 

Partner at Global Action Plan Chris Large said: ‘We know that people do want to act on air pollution. But currently, they don’t know how to protect themselves and their children, or how to cut air pollution in their local area. 15th June will be a day of practical action, myth-busting and awareness-raising, so we can all breathe cleaner air.’

Including the CIEH, the day is being supported by over 50 health institutions, councils and universities, including the Royal College of Physicians, the British Lung Foundation, and various NHS Trusts.

Tips are broken down into how to avoid pollution, reduce pollution made, and talk to others about air pollution. Avoiding pollution tips include walking down side streets instead of using main roads, which can reduce exposure to air pollution by 20% or more. These tips can be found on the NCAD website

CIEH has produced a number of case studies on how local authorities have helped reduce air pollution. Barnet council in North London has been working for the past 20 years to reduce air pollution with education projects at local schools, creating a pocket park, as well as implementing a green school at a local school next to the busy A41. 

The London Boroughs of Merton and Richmond upon Thames have been working together to reduce air pollution, particularly with local schools, as well as a Diesel Parking Surcharge. 

Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets councils have been working together as part of the Zero EmissionsNetwork to reduce air pollution by recruiting businesses. It offers free car club membership, cargobikes and electric vehicle trials. 

Meanwhile a project in Plymouth has seen the development of a cheap air quality monitor that when worn transmits data on PM2.5 and PM10 particulates to an app on a mobile phone. This information is then sent along with time, date and location to the cloud, highlighting pollution hotspots.  

The City of York Council has three air quality management areas (AQMAs) to deal with elevated concentrations and has set up a range of initiatives including retrofitting its sightseeing buses as electric.


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