4 Reshaping policy |
38. Many different policy actions could be used
to improve air quality but the most important are:
- raising awareness of air quality
issues, especially among policy makers, political decision makers
and the public;
- aligning air quality indicators and measures
within the local planning framework to reduce air pollution;
- improving the evidence base so that decisions
can be based on an assessment of cost effectiveness and a better
estimate of costs and benefits; and
- improving cross-departmental working.
These actions should bring about measurable improvements
in air quality by enabling changes in, for example, transport
policy and by encouraging action at the local authority level.
39. Often air pollution cannot be detected by
the general public and most people do not understand how much
it may harm their health.
Some policies require significant behavioural change, such as
a modal shift away from private vehicle use. Others, like low
emission zones, depend on public acceptance but, as the referendum
on congestion charging in Manchester showed, this is far from
easy to establish.
40. Defra established a 'Citizen's Jury' in 2006
to explore public views on air quality.
The results showed that at the beginning of the exercise there
was no understanding of how air quality is measured, of the health
impacts, or of how individuals can improve it. At the end of the
process the participants agreed that the issue of air quality
was more important than originally thought, because of its health
impacts. The citizen jurors recommended a public awareness campaign
that provided information on the causes and implications of air
quality and what individuals could do to make a difference and
how they would benefit as a result.
41. Air alerts established in London
provide free alerts of expected air pollution incidents and related
health advice to those with medical conditions that are exacerbated
by air pollution. Innovations such as the low pollution route
option available on www.walkit.com can also help raise awareness.
In Sheffield, public awareness has played a major part in encouraging
local action by the public and local authorities to improve air
quality by reducing car use and planting trees to abate pollution.
The Government has campaigns aimed at eliminating road deaths,
reducing exposure to passive smoking and reducing obesity.
Better public understanding of air quality issues is critical.
The Government must educate the public about the health risk from
poor air quality and about how they can limit their exposure and
improve air quality. Any campaign on air quality should raise
awareness of the actions people can take to reduce emissions of
dangerous pollutants and to reduce their exposure.
42. Defra, Department of Health, Department for
Transport, Department for Communities and Local Government, Department
of Energy and Climate Change and HM Treasury all have a role in
determining air quality policy. There is evidence of occasional
joined-up thinking on this issue. For example, the Cabinet Office
Strategy Unit included air pollution in its analysis of the wider
costs of transport in urban areas. But more co-operation is required.
Defra and DfT are held jointly accountable under Public Service
Agreement 28 for reducing air pollution. PSA28 aims to "secure
a healthy natural environment for today and the future".
PSA28's indicator 3, which requires the Government to meet Air
Quality Strategy objectives for eight air pollutants, is not being
43. LACORS believed that links between central
government departments need to be improved. Defra and DfT appear
to be linking up more effectively and undertake quarterly liaison
meetings with LACORS officers, but truly consistent joined-up
policy across all relevant departments is still lacking. It is
essential that DECC, DCLG, DoH and HMT also engage in and prioritise
air quality issues, which LACORS argued they have been somewhat
reluctant to do.
The Institute for Air Quality Management told us that Defra and
Department of Health had some understanding of the health effects
of air pollution but that other Government departments, like DfT,
DCLG, DECC and HMT, appeared to have limited awareness of air
quality issues and, often, a total lack of understanding that
air quality was a major problem in terms of its health and environmental
44. Harmonisation of air quality and climate
change policy exposes this lack of a joined up approach. Coordinated
policy cuts overall costs. In contrast, uncoordinated policy has
unintended consequences, and leads to contradictions within government.
Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and improvements in air
quality can be achieved by lower energy demand and better energy
efficiency. But some technologies that lower carbon dioxide emissions
can increase NOX and particulate emissions to the detriment
of local air quality.
45. In a number of cases the climate change agenda
has resulted in measures that increase air pollution. For example,
diesel vehicles were promoted because of their fuel efficiency
despite having higher emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen
dioxide than petrol vehicles. Another example has been the promotion
of biomass boilers in urban areas already suffering poor air quality.
46. Defra has only very recently published Air
Pollution: Action in a Changing Climate, which aims to link
air quality and climate change action.
Air quality will only improve if all government departments give
it priority and raise the profile of the issue. Unless this happens
systematically air quality issues will continue to be ignored
as departments focus on their primary objectives at the expense
of environmental impacts. Departments are expected to address
air quality in policy appraisals but lack the guidance to do this
standard impacts assessment form includes a prompt to assess impacts
on greenhouse gases but not air quality. Government
must raise the priority attached to air quality in all government
departments and provide better guidance on including air quality
impacts in policy appraisals. Only Defra and DfT are formally
accountable for air quality, under the Public Service Agreements;
other departments that contribute to the problem, including DCLG,
DoH, DECC and HMT, are not. Minsters must drive this from the
top, introduce measures to ensure this becomes routine practice
and accept responsibility for policies that conflict with air
Transport and air quality
47. Air pollution from road transport has fallen
by 50% since 1990 but traffic has increased by a fifth and the
number of licensed vehicles increased by 77% between 1980 and
2007, from 19 to 34 million.
48. The European Union plays a key role in regulating
pollution from road vehicles by setting European wide fuel standards
and emission limits. DfT negotiates these European fuel standards
and emission limits on behalf of the UK. Evidence suggests that
European vehicle and fuel standards will not achieve air quality
targets and the reductions in pollutants expected from these standards
have not been observed. Leicester City Council told us that the
Government's predictions over the last decade of a fall in traffic-generated
nitrogen dioxide have been over-optimistic.
This view was echoed by Dr Ian McCrae from the Transport Research
Laboratory (TRL), who also said that more research was required
to understand how transport emissions affected air quality:
What we have since about 2000 is a levelling off
of the air quality in response to those emissions improvements.
We do not see the same sort of gradients in terms of the improvements
in air quality. My feeling is that is probably a weakness in the
emission factors that we use in our models and that is a weakness
of the understanding of the technologies and how they perform
in real service.
49. Particulates from tyre, road and brake wear
is one area that has seen little research. Dr McCrae told us that
there was some data on brake and tyre wear, but that it was relatively
weak in relation to the exhaust pollutants coming from motor vehicles.
In addition more research is required to understand the contribution
particulate matter lying on the surface of the road makes. It
is thought almost 70% of roadside particulate concentrations come
from particulate matter on the road that is swept into the air
in the wake of passing vehicles.
50. Emissions standards for vehicles have been
relied on to cut air pollution from road traffic. But, on their
own, the Euro standards will not provide the emissions reductions
required to meet UK air quality objectives. Transport
policy must change dramatically if the UK is to meet future targets
and reduce exposure to air pollution. Much of this agenda is already
being driven by efforts to tackle climate change (like modal shift
and smarter travel choices) although some conflicts exist. In
addition to improving existing policies, the Government must explain
the role played by brake, tyre and road wear in generating particulate
matter and research the impact of road surface particulate matter
on air quality.
Assisting local authorities
51. Under the Environment Act 1995, local authorities
have a duty to work towards improved air quality. They are required
to carry out regular reviews and assessments of air quality in
their area against the objectives in the Air Quality Strategy.
Where any of these objectives are not being achieved, authorities
must designate air quality management areas and then prepare and
implement remedial action plans to tackle the problem. Once an
air quality action plan has been set, local authorities must report
to Defra or the relevant Devolved Administration on delivery against
this action plan. In 90% of local authorities with air quality
issues, local air quality management areas have been set up to
tackle transport-related pollution, although evidence on discernible
improvement in many of these is limited.
52. Local authorities are responsible for other
functions that may affect air quality and local air quality problems
are often an indirect result of measures driven by congestion,
road safety or employment. Good cooperation between transport,
air quality, climate change, public health and spatial planning
departments, as well as with partner organisations, is essential
to improving local air quality. Many local authorities lack the
resources to develop such strategic thinking by themselves. TRL
and Environmental Protection UK told us that in many cases local
authorities had limited knowledge and skills with which to tackle
air quality issues and had little control over the pollutants
and processes causing the problem. Local authorities need help
and advice to raise the profile of air quality within their environment
departments, where it might lose out to competing demands including
climate change, and across other areas of local authority responsibility
where awareness of the issue is limited.
53. To assist local authorities DfT has published
guidance on Local Transport Plans, which will be applicable from
April 2011. This strongly encourages local authorities to integrate
air quality action plans with the local transport planning process.
54. The planning process also offers an important
opportunity for local and regional authorities to influence air
quality. Oral evidence set out that local authorities and the
Environment Agency do not adequately consider air quality in the
planning process. The Government
must urgently explore how planning guidance can be strengthened
and applied to reduce air pollution. 
55. The Government's core policies and principles
for planning and pollution control are set out in Planning Policy
Statement 23 (PPS23). Planning Authorities must take this into
account when preparing Regional Spatial Strategies and Local Development
Frameworks. DCLG provides guidance on pollution control in PPS23
and Defra has provided guidance on using the planning system to
develop low emission strategies and improve air quality.
Despite this guidance, not all local authorities are developing
the required links between the air quality professionals, transport
planners, climate change officers and development control planners.
There is scope for sharing best practice on developing these links
though the Low Emissions Strategies Partnership that provides
a forum for examining local authority air quality issues.
56. Local authorities are key
to improving air quality. The Government must raise the profile
of air quality with all local authorities, encourage the sharing
of best practice and ensure that the issue is given sufficient
attention across all areas of local authority responsibility,
not just within their environmental departments.
57. Though costly to implement, low emissions
zones can be used by local authorities to improve air quality.
In Germany a national framework for low emission zones (to which
vehicular access can be restricted according to vehicle emissions)
has contributed to meeting EU targets. There is no such national
legislative framework in the UK. A national framework for low
emission zones would establish a nationally recognised standard
for emissions and vehicle identification, supported by a national
certification scheme of retrofit technologies. This would make
it much easier and less expensive for a local authority to establish
low emissions zones and to prescribe what standard of vehicles
would be allowed to enter them.
58. The London low emission zone has been effective
in reducing emissions of particulate matter.
Nitrogen dioxide pollution in London is more widespread than particulate
matter and the Greater London Authority (GLA) plan to extend the
low emission zone to cover this.
The GLA argued that it would be easier to do this if a national
certification scheme for low emission zones was established.
DfT recognised that the London low emissions zone would provide
an important part of the evidence needed to assess the effectiveness
of such schemes. They noted that the London scheme was more costly
and technologically complex than many on the continent.
59. The Environmental Industries Commission believe
that a national framework for low emission zones would help create
many new jobs in the UK's environment industry. Approximately
3,500 people are currently employed in the UK in the retrofit
market. Furthermore, an estimated 80% of the UK's retrofit market
is supplied by UK owned companies. The UK's share of this market
could increase further through effective Government support for
the introduction of low emission zones across the UK.
DfT officials told us that this option is being considered.
60. Developing a national framework
for low emissions zones would raise the profile of the air quality
challenge and help drive down emissions in our cities. The Government
must ensure that research into the options for such a framework
is completed and published at the earliest opportunity. Low emissions
zones are costly and are only likely to be effectively implemented
on a longer timescale. They will not be necessary in each local
authority. What is needed is for all local authorities to develop
wide ranging strategies that reduce emissions and drive down concentrations
of key pollutants. Local authorities must develop effective policies,
closely linked to planning and coupled with existing monitoring
35 Ev 106 Back
Defra, Report on the Citizens' Jury on Air Quality, July
See www.airtext.info/ Back
See www.sussex-air.net/AirAlert/Default.aspx Back
Ev 106 Back
HM Government, PSA Delivery Agreement 28: Secure a healthy
natural environment for today and the future, October 2007 Back
Ev 105 Back
Ev 72 Back
Defra, Air Pollution: Action in a Changing Climate, March
NAO, Air Quality, January 2010 Back
Ev 74 Back
Q 36 Back
Q 40 Back
Ev 16 Back
Q 49-50 Back
Defra, Low Emissions Strategies-using the planning system to
reduce transport emissions, January 2010 Back
Ev 67 Back
Ev 84 Back
Ev 12 Back
Q 3 Back
Ev 13 Back
Q 134 Back
Ev 126 Back