Air quality: A follow up report - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Particulate Matter

1.  There is still much to be done to resolve the situation in London. The Olympics Delivery Authority has made a commitment to holding the greenest Olympics ever, but we note that it is proving difficult to for the Mayor to make the required policy trade-offs and achieve acceptable levels of air quality. We welcome Defra's consultation to invite views on the short-term measures that have been adopted in London, but the fact that these measure have had to be used clearly indicates that air quality is not being addressed in the long-term. Further measures must address the causes of air pollution and must be more credible than spraying the roads with adhesive. (Paragraph 16)

Nitrogen Dioxide

2.  We can see no circumstances in which a delay in achieving [EU limit value] targets or a lessening of these targets would be acceptable. Any delay or lessening would simply put more lives a risk. We see a case for arguing that fines would not be appropriate if the means for delivering them is not available, but this case has not yet been adequately made. The Government must set out how it intends to achieve EU targets. It must say, in its response to this report, whether or not it intends to push for less stringent targets when air quality legislation is reviewed in 2013. Its apparent tactic of avoiding EU fines by applying for extensions to limit value targets, with an expectation that target values will be diluted in the near future, is putting the health of UK residents at risk. (Paragraph 20)

3.  Applications for compliance extensions which lack sufficient policy measures to back them up could result in unlimited fines from the European Commission. The Government must now embark on a strategy that aims to achieve air quality targets. (Paragraph 21)

4.  In the event of a third runway being developed at Heathrow, compliance with NO2 limits would be impossible. ..... However, for the Government to make the case that compliance with EU air quality limits throughout Greater London will be maintained beyond 2015, their application for an extension to meet EU limit values, the forthcoming Sustainable Framework for UK Aviation and the forthcoming Aviation National Policy Statement must contain an explicit prohibition of a third runway at Heathrow. (Paragraph 22)

The priority given by Defra

5.  Defra must include progress towards achieving EU air quality targets for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in its business plan at the next update. If these targets are not included, we expect the Minster for Government Policy to report on why this is the case and what discussions he has had with Defra on this during his review of their business plan. (Paragraph 26)

Joined up policy

6.  The Government should produce an action plan setting out how air quality is to be considered in policy development across Government, to encourage co-benefits with other policies, to discourage policy conflicts and to assess the impacts of consolidating air quality regulations. It should establish a ministerial group to oversee and ensure adherence to the action plan. The Cabinet Office, because of its role in directing policy across departments, should take the lead in implementing this. (Paragraph 30)

Support for local authorities

7.  The Government must engage with local authority leaders to set out clearly the risks of failing to act on improving air quality. It must help local authorities to join up thinking across their departments to help identify where conflicts arise and where improvements can be made. This needs to be done in a way that influences decisions taken by local enterprise partnerships and planning authorities and takes account of new public health reforms. Government engagement with local authorities also needs to address establishing a national framework for low emissions zones and a public awareness campaign. (Paragraph 37)

8.  A blanket approach of transferring EU fines to those local authorities failing to meet air quality targets would be unfair. The causes of poor air quality are often beyond an individual authority's control. ..... Transferring EU fines to local authorities might help to deliver air quality improvements but, if it pursues this, the Government must establish a mechanism where it only passes on a share of fines proportionate to a local authority's ability to influence local air quality. Many of the causes of poor air quality arise from policies for which central Government is responsible. Otherwise, the process is likely to result in lengthy and costly legal battles, and risks being seen simply as cutting local government financial support. Before it does this, the Government needs to assess the resource requirements of individual local authorities, depending on their circumstances, to be able to deal efficiently with the air quality challenge at a time of squeezed budgets. (Paragraph 39)

Health reforms

9.  The Government must take full advantage of public health reforms to improve local authorities' abilities to improve air quality. In particular the Government should introduce indicators to measure public health improvements from better air quality in its public health reforms. (Paragraph 41)

Low emission zones

10.  As a matter of urgency, the Government must set up a national framework for low emission zones to establish a recognised standard for emissions and vehicle identification, supported by a national certification scheme of retrofit technologies. (Paragraph 46)

Increase public awareness

11.  The costs to society from poor air quality are on a par with those from smoking and obesity. A public awareness campaign would be the single most important tool in improving air quality. It should be used to inform people about the positive action they could take to reduce emissions and their exposure. It should also be used to provide an impetus for action in local authorities to deliver more joined up thinking on achieving air quality targets. The Government should provide Defra with the means to launch such a campaign. This could be done in collaboration with existing campaigning groups, to ensure maximum cost effectiveness and coverage. (Paragraph 52)

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 14 November 2011