In 2010 our predecessor Environmental Audit Committee reported on Air Quality. It found that poor air quality is shortening the life expectancy of people in the UK by an average of seven to eight months and is costing society up to £20 billion per year. It called for an urgent step change in policy to reduce pollution from transport.
Over the past year the evidence of the damage caused by air pollution has grown stronger. But the UK is still failing to meet European targets for safe air pollution limits across many parts of the country. The step change called for has not happened.
The Government has failed to get to grips with this issue. Most of the measures set out in its response to our predecessors' report are yet to be brought in. Forty out of the UK's 43 assessment zones are failing to meet EU targets and poor air quality is now found to be shortening the lives of up to 200,000 people by an average of 2 years. The Government must not continue to put the health of the nation at risk. It needs to:
- Prioritise action across central Government by putting improving air quality in the Defra Business Plan, and set up a Cabinet Office lead Ministerial Group to oversee delivery of a new cross government air quality strategy;
- Engage with local authority leaders clearly to set out the risks of failing to act to improve air quality, and join up thinking across local authority departments so they all contribute to solving this problem;
- Establish a national framework of low emissions zones to help local authorities reduce pollution from traffic;
- Ensure that thinking on air quality is central to public health reforms that will transfer public health functions to local authorities;
- Launch a public awareness campaign to drive air quality up the political agenda and inform people about the positive action they could take to reduce emissions and their exposure to these.
Four thousand people died as a result of the Great Smog of London in 1952 and this led to the introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1956. In 2008, 4,000 people died in London from air pollution and 30,000 died across the whole of the UK.