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homeSaturday 19th January 2019

MPs call for end to air quality confusion

Stuart Spear22/03/2018 - 12:31

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Will Clean Air Zones just move pollution elsewhere?
Will Clean Air Zones just move pollution elsewhere?

MPs have warned Defra to address council confusion over the efficacy of clean air zones (CAZ) and to clarify what action is expected to tackle poor air quality.

The warning comes in the joint committeereport Improving Air Quality, an unprecedented joint investigation by four select committees into the UK’s air quality public health crisis.

The investigation was launched following concerns over the inadequacy of the government’s plan to improve air quality after a series of successful judicial challenges against Defra.

Pointing to evidence provided by CIEH and Sandwell Metropolitan Council the report warns of a lack of clarity over pollution displacement where the implementation of a CAZ could just lead to polluting vehicles being diverting into other areas.

The MPs call on Defra and the Department of Transport to provide councils with assurances that their actions will not just shift pollution into neighbouring districts, some of them lower socioeconomic areas resulting in increased health inequalities.

The report also points to a fundamental contradiction in Defra’s air quality plan. On one hand Defra’s technical report states that charging zones are the fastest route to improved air quality while Defra has also directed councils to demonstrate that other measures have been tried and failed before introducing a charging zone.

‘This lack of clarity is causing confusion and hampering councils’ ability to tackle air pollution as quickly as possible’ states the report.

The MPs also address local authority funding pointing out that the £255m Implementation Fund allocated for feasibility studies, implementing CAZs, operation costs and air quality modelling and monitoring is inadequate.

‘The funding committed does not reflect the externalized health costs of air pollution or the savings that improvements to air quality would bring,’ says the report. The MPs call on Defra to look at alternative funding plans including a fund partially financed by the private sector for clean air initiatives to be set up by December 2018.

Defra is also being asked to examine expected returns from charging zones and the feasibility of allowing local authorities to use the money to fund local air quality schemes.

There is also a call for The Joint Air Quality Unit to develop a centralised support programme available to help all local authorities ‘to address current and prevent future air pollution problems’. This national service should be in place by January 2019 with the MPs calling for written confirmation of it being set up.

‘We are calling on government to develop a properly resourced support scheme available to all councils struggling with air quality, and to require manufacturers of polluting vehicles to pay their fair share by contributing to an industry-financed clean air fund,’ said Neil Parish MP, chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

The report also warns that not enough has been done to communicate the health risks of poor air quality to the public. The British Lung Foundation told the inquiry of the need for a public awareness campaign alerting people to high pollution levels inside their vehicles and that face masks offer little protection against poor air quality.

Concerns have also been raised about the lack of engagement by the health community. ‘The health sector needs to play a stronger, more visible and more vocal role in tackling air quality,’ states the report. This includes at a national level the Department of Health and Public Health England and at a local level through directors of public health.

The four committees authoring the report are: Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care and Transport Committees.

Further recommendations include:

  • place the protection of public health and the environment, rather than technical compliance or political convenience, at the centre of air quality policy
  • require the automobile industry to contribute to a new clean air fund, following the 'polluter pays' principle
  • bring forward the date by which manufacturers must end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars, in line with more ambitious commitments from around the world
  • introduce a Clean Air Act to improve existing legislation and enshrine the right to clean air in UK law
  • widen the 2017 plan “to offer direction, financial resources, and technical support to the 45 local authority areas which breach NO2 limit levels but are not included under the current action framework”;
  • align climate change schemes, urban planning, public transport and fiscal incentives with air quality goals to prevent Government policy from working at cross-purposes
  • take greater account of the costs of air pollution when establishing taxation and spending policy
  • ensure that [electric] charging infrastructure addresses strategic needs and prioritises air quality hotspots.

 

 

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