Environmental Audit Committee - Minutes of EvidenceAir quality: A follow up report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee

on Wednesday 8 June 2011

Members present:

Joan Walley (Chair)

Peter Aldous

Neil Carmichael

Martin Caton

Katy Clark

Zac Goldsmith

Simon Kirby

Mark Lazarowicz

Caroline Lucas

Ian Murray

Mr Mark Spencer

Dr Alan Whitehead

Simon Wright


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: James Grugeon, Healthy Air Campaign, Ed Dearnley, Policy Officer, Environmental Protection UK, Professor Frank Kelly, Director, Environmental Research Group, and Councillor Richard Kemp, Vice Chairman, Local Government Group, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: I welcome all four of you to our Committee. I do apologise for the private business beforehand, which has slightly delayed us. We are expecting a vote at 4.15 pm, so we are going to find it very frustrating, with four expert witnesses with a lot to say and a lot of Committee members.

Just by way of business, it will be really helpful if you could each at the start just introduce yourselves and your organisations, so for the record we know who is here, because we do not have a video link. Then, after you have each done that, I will kick in straight away with a couple of short, sharp questions, if I may. Mr Dearnley, do you want to commence?

Ed Dearnley: My name is Ed Dearnley. I represent Environmental Protection UK where I am a policy officer and lead on air quality. Environmental Protection UK used to be called the National Society for Clean Air. We have been working in this area for over 110 years. We are a membership organisation, so we have local authority members-most local authorities are members-and consultancies, academics and individuals are all part of our group. So we have lots of expertise to draw upon. We work mainly on local environmental issues, and I think we are unique as an NGO doing most of our work in that area.

Q2 Chair: Thank you. I think the shorter the introduction the longer we will have for questions, but thank you. Mr Grugeon.

James Grugeon: I will keep it very short. I am the Chief Executive of Environmental Protection UK, but I am here today on behalf of the Healthy Air Campaign, which is a coalition of a number of transport, health and environmental charities.

Chair: Thank you. Professor Kelly, welcome again.

Professor Kelly: Good afternoon. My name is Frank Kelly. I am Professor of Environmental Health at King’s College, London, where I am Director of the Environmental Research Group that is responsible for the London Air Quality Network.

Richard Kemp: I am Councillor Richard Kemp. I am Vice Chair of the Local Government Association, which represents all but five councils in England, and it represents the Councils in Wales on some issues. We represent organisations like the National Parks Authorities as well.

Q3 Chair: Thank you very much. We hope that our session today will inform a later session with Ministers, so perhaps you could highlight for us the health problems that poor air quality is causing and also perhaps just give a brief idea of how that relates geographically. I think one of the things that we have picked up in the evidence is whether or not this is something that is right the way across the UK or how much it is related to pockets of the UK.

Professor Kelly: We need to consider this issue in two ways. Air pollution affects certain individuals acutely. That means that whenever there is an air pollution episode they respond if they have asthma or COPD or perhaps heart disease. They experience those symptoms and they require more medication. When the air pollution episode disappears, then their symptoms usually subside.

The other way to consider the issue is the chronic effects of air pollution, and these are the effects that you get if you live in an area that has high pollution. This is much more worrisome from a public health point of view, and the current estimation is that for the UK roughly 29,000 people in 2008 died prematurely because of air pollution. That is if the effect of air pollution was considered by itself. If we want to take a more holistic view, then we believe that air pollution is responsible for a lot of the heart disease that we see in the UK. 187,000 people across the UK die from heart disease, and if we consider the air pollution component that leads to that situation then probably those individuals are losing on average three years of their life.

Q4 Chair: Thank you. Does anyone want to add to that?

Richard Kemp: No.

James Grugeon: I think I would just add that the impacts are concentrated in the most polluted urban areas. That disproportionately hits lower income communities. One of the reasons why we have set up the Healthy Air Campaign is to be able to identify more effectively which areas of the UK are hit by air pollution and the public health consequences of that. A major component of the campaign will be to provide some research where we can break down across the UK what the impacts are, which is something that is lacking at the moment and would be, I think, very useful.

Q5 Chair: As for other aspects or problems associated with air pollution, for example, damage to the natural environment or agriculture-is that something of concern?

Professor Kelly: Yes, it certainly is. It is something that has not been quantified to the same extent as human public health issues, but it is really a major problem for the UK biodiversity.

Q6 Chair: Just finally, if I may at the start, in respect of EU air quality rules, any verdict on whether or not the UK is breaking them, or what the situation is in respect of those?

Ed Dearnley: Yes, certainly the most pressing one is for nitrogen dioxide and it certainly appears that large areas of the UK will not be meeting the annual average limit value for nitrogen dioxide, which comes into effect, well, now. In addition to nitrogen dioxide, the UK will also have to meet PM2.5 limit values from 2020 and we do feel these are being almost entirely ignored at the moment. There do not seem to be any plans for how we are going to meet those limit values. There was a report recently by the Scottish and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research that suggested that these targets are going to be extremely difficult to meet, so we need to start acting on that now rather than later.

James Grugeon: I think the other thing to say about the EU targets, which has come up recently in a couple of ministerial meetings that we have had with a junior Transport Minister and the Minister responsible for air quality, is that it appears there may be some lobbying going on from the UK Government and other member states to water down current EU air quality regulations, and that is not something that you would be doing starting from a high base anyway, because we would argue that those are not strict enough.

Richard Kemp: There is something I would like to add there. Our concern is not the EU legislation, but it is the way the Government is currently reacting to it. The Localism Bill, which has passed through your House and is now in the House of Lords, has a clause within it that will enable the Government to pass fines on to local authorities. Inevitably, that is going to be an arbitrary decision, because who is going to decide who is responsible for what where? It is going to take years in the courts. It is not going to add to what we believe should be a dialogue between central and local government; it will create a barrier. We are concerned about the way the Government is currently thinking about how it will deal with the problems if the UK as a whole does not conform to the legislation, and particularly the targets.

Chair: Thank you for that. Of course, we will have an opportunity to question Ministers later, so please let the Committee have any further thoughts arising out of this exchange.

Q7 Martin Caton: Has the Government improved air quality policy over the last few years?

Ed Dearnley: I don’t think they have. We have heard very little in the way of new air quality policy coming out of the Government, beyond that initial commitment in the coalition agreement to work towards EU limit values, which of course does not commit them to doing so. We understand there will be a nitrogen dioxide action plan coming out imminently and this will be to assist the Government with their application for a time extension for meeting the nitrogen dioxide limit values. But to date there has been very little in the way of new policy.

Q8 Martin Caton: Is that a general consensus?

James Grugeon: Yes, absolutely.

Q9 Martin Caton: What should be the urgent action they should be taking now then?

Professor Kelly: In our major cities, we have problems with air quality and we need to be bringing in policy that addresses those issues. For example, if we take London, the majority of our pollution on a normal day is from local transport. We need to be considering how we improve the public transport in London so that we remove it from being totally powered by diesel. We need to be incentivising through perhaps an enlarged congestion charging scheme or a low emission zone within the congestion charging scheme where we do not have the most polluting vehicles coming into the centre of London. We need smarter ways of dealing with these emission sources. That is the sort of policy that we will have to introduce if we are going to solve the air quality problem.

Ed Dearnley: Just to add to that, the previous Government’s policy for air quality was basically to wait for better emission standards for vehicles to sort out the air quality problems. The evidence that we are now seeing, and particularly since the publication of the last Environmental Audit Committee Air Quality Report, suggests that they are just not working-particularly with diesel vehicles-as well as might be expected. The challenge is now to put in more active policies, such as the ones that Frank was talking about, to actually target these areas of poor air quality and also to make sure that the forthcoming emission regulations for vehicles, the Euro 6 standards, actually do deliver in the real world.

Q10 Martin Caton: Are you picking up any evidence that the Government is giving this some sense of priority?

James Grugeon: No, not in my view.

Professor Kelly: Well, £5 million was awarded to London to introduce measures so that they could meet the EU limit values over a short-term period. That money has been, I believe, largely spent in using adhesive to stick pollutant particulates to our road, which is not obviously the way forward. We need to be dealing with the source emissions. Are we going to end up spending £5 million every three months to probably not even achieve the target?

Q11 Peter Aldous: Can you repeat that, because I am not sure I heard it? Adhesives?

Professor Kelly: Yes, every evening the Embankment is sprayed with a solution whose main aim is to trap the pollution to the roadside, so it is not elevated back into the atmosphere. The hope is that if during this three-month period it can be shown that the pollution levels in London have fallen, then the EU will grant us our extension. This is something that obviously cannot go on forever. I honestly do not think it will work, but we will need to wait and see. But it is just the wrong way to be spending our money. It is not innovative. It is going about the problem back to front.

Q12 Martin Caton: How much is being spent on this experiment?

Professor Kelly: Well, the Government awarded £5 million to the Mayor of London to bring in short-term measures, and this is one of those major shortterm measures.

Q13 Martin Caton: So £5 million on spraying the Embankment every evening?

Professor Kelly: It is not all being spent on it, but it is a major component of the fund.

Q14 Caroline Lucas: If you had £5 million what would you have done with it to tackle the same problem?

Professor Kelly: I had not thought of that question. £5 million is not a lot of money, sorry, it is not nearly enough. But I think off the top of my head we need to educate the public. They do not understand we have an air quality problem. They are part of the problem and will be part of the solution. If we can use that money to educate them, then we are moving in the right direction. We need to also educate ladies and gentlemen like yourselves to empower our Ministers to bring in the right laws that will allow us as a society to move forward, and ultimately we will have a much cleaner environment, a much more pleasant city, and we will have enormous savings on our public health bill: £20 billion.

Richard Kemp: That is where I would spend the £5 million as well. In other items relating to the environment, for example, recycling, we are clearly winning-slowly-with everyone except Daily Mail readers, this argument about the need to recycle. Air we do not understand. You cannot see it, you do not see the problem, so I think we need to embark on an exercise because we as politicians can only go so far unless the public also consent to the agreement and take different actions. I do not think anyone is dealing with that, so £5 million would not go far, but it would at least start a process of raising public awareness.

On a more general point, we should all be pleased that air quality is in the coalition agreement and therefore becomes a coalition priority. But then as we look at some of the business plans of the Departments who should be delivering this, for example, air quality is not in the DEFRA business plan and it is not in the DfT business plan. If transport is a major problem, then why isn’t it in the business plan and, if it is not, what is the commitment to the coalition agreement?

Chair: I think inevitably there are so many different aspects to all of this that it will come up in the questioning, but I think perhaps if we could move on to Neil.

Q15 Neil Carmichael: I was thinking of the passage of the Clean Air Act, which you would be very familiar with. Of course, that drew a lot of attention to some lessons, not least the cooperation between local authorities and all the rest, which is one of the reasons why it had to be passed in the first place. Which really brings me to the question that I want to ask: what do you think needs to be done to improve the joined-up nature of Government to tackle this issue of clean air? All of you have referred to areas where we are not joined up well enough, so one answer from each of you would be great.

James Grugeon: I think there are two things. For the Healthy Air Campaign, the key answer is to say that there needs to be a joined-up approach in Government. I spend a lot of time going into meetings at DEFRA, who currently take the lead, and the officials from the Department of Health, Department for Transport, DECC, frequently will not be there. It is our view that actually a co-ordinated cross-departmental approach to integrate policy and leadership should probably come from perhaps a cross-cutting Government Department like the Cabinet Office. But this is a twin-pronged thing, and I think it is very important that that national leadership position and strategy is then supported and implemented by local authorities who are also able to take a lead.

At the moment, one of the observations that I would have made earlier, as an organisation that represents the majority of environmental health officers and directors of environmental health who deal with the air pollution at a local level, is that it is an extremely challenging environment for them. We are finding that numbers are reduced when councils are looking at what are their priorities and the spending cuts. But also within the localism agenda and the emerging public health agenda where we will see public health going back into local authorities, there is an opportunity to start joining up public health and air pollution. Air pollution is one of the most significant public health risks facing the country at the moment and there really needs to be a national co-ordinated strategy that is linked to local authority-led action.

Professor Kelly: Can I just give you very a brief example? In 1952 with the great London smog we estimated after that about 4,000 people died. That led to the introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1956. We know air quality has improved incredibly since then. However, we now have this new problem that we cannot see. It is not the same old air pollution; it is a new type of air pollution, tiny particles, nitrogen dioxide. In 2008, 4,000 people died in London from air pollution. The estimates are the same. We need-

Q16 Chair: What about the rest of the country?

Professor Kelly: In the rest of the country, 30,000. That is the best estimate. We need to be taking the same sort of level of action, I believe, that we did in the 1950s.

Q17 Neil Carmichael: You are quite right, because oddly enough, the first response to the smog was actually smog masks, wasn’t it?

Professor Kelly: Yes.

Q18 Neil Carmichael: Which was a disastrous and idiotic strategy.

Professor Kelly: Spraying roads.

Q19 Neil Carmichael: Yes. What is striking about the Clean Air Act was actually Government just simply pulled its socks up and delivered a pretty powerful piece of legislation against the opposition of a large group of different vested interests, not least the miners who all got a free sack of coal each week and clearly wanted to carry on getting that free sack of coal and so on. It is a really interesting example of how Government can act if it is given the purpose, and I think that is what you are really driving at: what is going to be that trigger?

Professor Kelly: It demonstrated international leadership in the area. It was fantastic.

Neil Carmichael: Yes, because others followed us, you are absolutely right.

Richard Kemp: If I could do one thing, it would be to have a clear understanding between central and local government about which levers each of us can pull. Because at the moment it seems to me there is a lot has just been devolved to local government, but frankly, if you are Warrington Council and you have two major motorways intersecting in the middle of your town, and you have another one on the fringe and you are not far from Manchester Airport, there are some things that you could and should do but there are some things that are clearly outside your control. We need to split who should be doing what so there is clarity between us. If we did that, then we could come to local agreements council by council. Councils are not bothered about targets set with central Government; we do not like targets set by central Government. We could then work out that Warrington should be doing this or Liverpool should be doing that. At the moment, there is no way of doing that, because we lack that clarity.

Q20 Neil Carmichael: A sort of constitutional settlement, really, is what you are looking for there, isn’t it?

Richard Kemp: That would be a step that I will not see in my lifetime.

Ed Dearnley: I would just add that the main thrust of the Government’s policy on the environment is on climate change, rightly, and there are huge benefits to be taken from joining up climate change and air quality policy. You can put in place measures that deal with both issues very effectively. However, at the moment that is not really happening. Last year, DEFRA released a document called Action in a Changing Climate, which suggested how that could be done at a national level, but that does not seem to be really happening.

The best example I can give you of what is not going right at the moment is perhaps the renewable heat incentive. When that was first floated, we realised a lot of that would go on to subsidising wood burning, and wood burning can have quite substantial air quality impacts. So there was the idea of air quality limits for wood-burning equipment supported by that scheme. These have been progressively watered down through development of the scheme and it has been launched without them. Through that process you sometimes get the view that DECC see air quality as a barrier to success of the scheme rather than an important issue to take account of when they are developing their programme.

Chair: Zac, you did not want to come in on that point, did you?

Q21 Zac Goldsmith: Yes. On this division between the national and local, you have half addressed it, but I am interested in what you think is the correct split between the two. If you look at something like the Clean Air Act, which is a big, bold, national statement-or more than just a statement-how much of the responsibility does realistically lie with the local authorities and how much has to come from the direction provided by the national Government?

Richard Kemp: I have no problem with central Government setting directions, but what it must not do is then say to local government they should take responsibility for things that are outwith our powers. So, strong central direction, strong central support-I am all in favour of that-then work out with the council what we can do. Again, if we go back to traffic, it is entirely right that the Government should be challenging every council, or in some cases groups of councils, to set targets for traffic within the conurbation or within the council area. But we cannot take responsibility for traffic coming to or through our conurbations, because they go on national roads and they are doing national things. I think it is a question of strong central direction that would be supported by local government, and working out what effective levers we have, and helping us use those levers, rather than assuming we can do things that we cannot.

Q22 Caroline Lucas: Following on that same line of thinking, once you have decided what is within the realms of a local authority’s responsibility to do, is there enough guidance and support coming from national Government to enable you to do it? At the moment we have a Government that is fairly hands-off, basically encouraging and so forth. Should local authorities be required to do anything that is within their realm of responsibility or anything more?

Richard Kemp: I have been to six Select Committees in the last year, and every one has asked me roughly the same question: should we be required to, should the Government prescribe? Then I have to go back to the ranch and deal with prioritising the priorities. I do not think that there are enough councils that are fully aware of the problem. This never reflects itself in my advice centre, and it probably does not reflect itself in yours, because the difference between now and the smog-and I lived in London and had asthma when I was little-is that you could see the smog. You cannot see the particulate, so therefore it does not rate.

There is a lot of guidance out there now. In fact, one of the things that we have asked DEFRA to do is to compile a list of all the guidance, to make sure there are no conflicts within the guidance. I do not think it is so much guidance that is required now, but it is part of the campaigning thing; it is part of the awareness thing: make councils more aware of these issues, because many councils are not aware. We have our professional people, like environmental health, but it is not coming forward on to the agendas enough. I would raise the agenda, I would raise the issue, rather than say more guidance, because if we knew the issue was there, I think most councils would want to react to it more comprehensively than they do.

James Grugeon: I partly agree with that, in the sense that I think local authorities need to be empowered to do this stuff, but there does need to be an element of carrot and stick here. I think about the localism agenda and the way in which, for example, the demise of regional spatial strategies and national indicators on climate change has had an impact on how local authorities take a leadership position on climate change, which I believe is absolutely critical and integral to looking at air pollution. That is quite challenging.

I agree wholeheartedly that there needs to be a piece on engagement here, which is what this campaign is about. More broadly speaking-we have talked about this-the current metrics and data and evidence used by Government on air pollution are borderline misleading, and not at all engaging in terms of getting people to be thinking about what is a really significant problem. You are absolutely right, it will not be coming up in local councillors’ surgeries; it will not be coming up in MPs’ surgeries. There has to be a more compelling metric, and that is premature deaths and some of the stuff that Frank has been talking about. Government documents and evidence at the moment do not come close to actually outlining the gravity of the situation. It is small wonder the general public, let alone local politicians, are not engaged in it. We need to create some compelling messaging that actually starts to talk about some of the major health risks. We can start talking about children and asthma, we can talk about heart disease and all the other issues that we know are very serious. But we also need to be talking about it in the context of other public health issues that people understand, like passive smoking. What am I missing now in the other issues-road traffic accidents, stuff that has already been out there because of major public health campaigns? I think people will start to realise what a significant issue it is, and you will then find that there is kind of upward pressure publicly, but there also needs to be something coming from a national Government strategy that tells local authorities what they should be doing. I think we also need to recognise that, with limited resources in the local authorities, it is a much more challenging environment for them.

Q23 Caroline Lucas: So we need more awareness raising, we need more knowledge in local authorities. Do we need more skills there as well? Is there more research and so forth that needs to be done, or is it more a case that we know what needs doing, we just need to get the political will to do it?

Richard Kemp: We should not expect that all our staff within the council-planning, housing, education, all sorts of people who might be involved in this-should be experts in this. What we have to do is to make sure that the challenging role of our environmental health officers, where the source of expertise will always lie for something like this, is felt strongly enough throughout the councils. I think the knowledge is there, the skills are there, but sometimes I would say that our environmental health departments are hidden heroes of the council. We do not really see them enough. As a councillor, I happen to know who our chief environmental health officer is, but that is almost by accident, because they do not promote themselves very well as a profession within the council. There is more that could be done, but all the expertise is there. It is how we use that expertise.

Ed Dearnley: Air quality is often siloed in the environmental health departments of local authorities, but as your previous report said, transport functions are often in a county level authority; environmental health is a district level authority responsibility. There is often a disconnect between those two areas, and the joint working can sometimes be a little difficult in practice.

Professor Kelly: I attended a council meeting in Camden last week and a number of the councillors were very frustrated with their inability to do anything about all the taxi pollution that is around St Pancras and Euston. What they need to do is to be able to control the type of taxi that uses the rank there, but of course, they realise they cannot do that as an individual borough and it really needs to be all the neighbouring boroughs and, in fact, needs to be London-wide. That is where central Government has to act with a low emission zone, a framework that I know DEFRA at the moment are looking at across the country. That is the sort of action we need and then it can be implemented at the local level and regulated.

Ed Dearnley: Just a point on smaller local authorities, they can often lack the expertise because basically it is not economic to have that expertise in-house. Several local authorities are in county or other level groupings where they can then employ greater expertise, but these are quite vulnerable to the cuts. If you employ somebody obviously to facilitate that group and bring in expertise and a couple of local authorities pull out of the grouping, then suddenly it becomes uneconomic to have that person in place and then it all falls to bits. They are very vulnerable to the cuts.

James Grugeon: I think the general observation is that where there is a political will within a local authority they will be taking a lead on air pollution, usually integrated into action on climate change, but it is hit and miss. By raising the profile of the issue locally, getting that upward pressure, you would hope that there would be resources made available.

Q24 Peter Aldous: Carrying on looking at the role between local authorities and the Government, I will try and get the questions out together. We have talked about this quite a bit. The first point is, do you believe the incentives that are placed on local authorities to improve air quality are sufficient for that purpose? If not, how do you think they could be improved? The third point is, there are various policy levers for improving air quality that rest between local and central Government; is the balance right? The final point I have, and it may be Councillor Kemp wants to come back on this, because he did refer to it previously, is it fair for local authorities to be paying for air quality fines from Europe? There are four questions there, one for each.

Chair: Who wants to go first?

Richard Kemp: Perhaps as the politician I ought to. I can see some reticence to my left. First of all, as I have made clear, I do not think the relationship is right, because we have not defined what the relationship between central and local government should be on this issue. That is the major inhibitor for activity. As a councillor, I do not need incentives for dealing with this. If someone can show me that X number of people are dying prematurely in Liverpool a year as a result of it, then that is all the incentive I need. I might need some support to do something about it, I might need some technical help, I might need some legislative help, but I do not need an incentive to do the right thing. I would not look at it that way. That is two of the questions.

The third question is certainly this thing about fining. You are not going to get any money out of us, because if you take on a council, we will go straight to court. The only people that would make any money out of this is barristers. Because if you can prove to me that Liverpool or Manchester or Knowsley or any other council are the people who have caused this problem, which led to a default with a national target in Europe, then you are going to have to have done some very good work on defining targets. If we could have defined the targets in the first place, then perhaps central and local government would have worked towards them to do something about them. This is just a lawyer’s charter that won’t achieve anything and I think should come out of the Bill-if you could remember that when it comes back to the House.

Ed Dearnley: I would agree with those points. On the share of responsibilities, at the moment local authorities are required to work towards the air quality objectives but are not actually required to meet them. For the reasons that have been said earlier, there are many things outside local authorities’ control, so asking them to achieve the limit values is a little unfair. I would also agree that it should be perhaps a bottom-up approach rather than a setting of targets, and that we do need to get the politicians and the public more interested in this area so they feel they have a need to tackle it.

In terms of joint working, national Government needs to put in place that framework for local authorities to work within. The best example of this is perhaps the low emission zones we talked about earlier. We do need a national framework for low emission zones like they have in Germany, so that local authorities can then establish something within that and it makes it a great deal easier and cheaper for them to set it up.

On fines, I agree that it is unfair. National Government sets the framework for local authorities to act within. For example, if the Government wants to encourage polluting fuels, which they do through tax breaks on diesel vehicles, or not deal with rising volumes of traffic on the road, then it is unfair to expect local authorities to pick up the air quality pieces, so to speak.

James Grugeon: We have had some conversations with people in the public health and environmental health departments of local authorities where it is pretty clear that the devolution of public health back to local authorities is an opportunity to link up funding and potentially create greater resources for local authorities to tackle air pollution. But again, these are conversations that need to be led by a national strategy at an early stage that the Department of Health is engaged in. We were having a conversation earlier about who were the appropriate Department to be taking a lead on air pollution. In an ideal world, that would be the Department of Health. That would be very difficult at the moment, so if you started with a national strategy that was Cabinet Office-led then you could almost envisage that DEFRA’s role in leading on air pollution might be deemed inappropriate.

Q25 Chair: In terms of public health and the environmental health officers you have referred to, is it your perception that it tends to be that their role is largely a preventative or an enforcement role at local level, but actually when it comes to the strategic planning-and I am thinking now particularly about the local enterprise partnerships or the proposals for local enterprise zones-there is going to be a strategic policy arena where in my experience those particular professionals, both on public health and environmental health, are just not at the top table?

Richard Kemp: Of course, that to some extent will change. Whatever comes out of the pause on the Health Bill, one thing there seems to be general agreement on is that the move of public health back to local government is a good thing. I chaired a meeting on Thursday with all the public health bodies and we have already moved on to planning how we are going to do this, how we are going to make sure that public health is an important part of the work that we do within local government, not necessarily because they are a big department but because they move into local government, they are able to challenge our housing policy, our transport policy, our education policy, what we do in our parks, what we do in our youth clubs, and so on. There is a real thirst from most of the professionals for the move over. There are some concerns about money, some concerns that were dealt with by your colleagues in the Health Select Committee yesterday, but by having the public health professionals as well as the environmental health professionals within local authorities, we will be able to do the joining up locally, which will enhance our call to local government. We have joined up here, we know what we can do, we know what we want to do, but here is the gap with what you do or what you are allowing us to do in legislation. I think in two or three years when this settles down it will be much, much stronger.

Q26 Dr Whitehead: Joining up, though, presumably among other things reveals and quantifies the full cost of air quality, as opposed to what is often the case at the moment, which is that local authority programmes, transport programmes, and so on, will not have incorporated that full cost into what they are costing for the project itself. What would you say are the particular hidden costs, and to what extent do you think they really are currently costed in to what local authorities are doing?

Richard Kemp: Well, it is not only local authorities. I accept that challenge. What local authorities supervise is just as important. I will give you an example of that. The Government have recently relaxed environmental standards for new house building through changes to the building regulations, on the grounds that that will for the next two or three years enhance the building industry. I can see that, but these houses now have to last 200 years, so we are building in 200 years of less green effectiveness, and the cost of that is not costed anywhere at the moment. Clearly, if we just look at the sort of figures that Professor Kelly has been talking about, somewhere we are going to meet that in the health service or somewhere else. The fact is that we do not look at this in the round at the moment. If we start including it more holistically in things like our transport policy, that will have a possible effect of increasing cost, but it will have a better effect, to my mind, of focusing the mind on what those longer-term issues are, because we are not considering them properly. We will then have a much better position to look at the short term and the long term and work out what will happen. At the moment, I do not think those long-term considerations are there at all.

James Grugeon: I just want to broadly agree, to be honest. I don’t think there is anything that I would add to that.

Q27 Neil Carmichael: Councillor Kemp has already touched upon this. I was going to ask about our proposals for health and social care and, in particular, the plans we have for local authorities and the public protection angle and the theme of integration. Could you three comment on how you see that unfolding? Because, of course, we are thinking here in terms of the unitary authorities and shire counties and so on having that responsibility and, of course, there is an element of accountability as well that is going to be quite interesting. Could you three comment in turn?

Professor Kelly: Just thinking back to the last air quality inquiry this Committee undertook, it was identified that within Government there was a lack of communication between Departments, and that was partly because it was not realised that it was such a large public health problem to begin with. There was some lack of enthusiasm of doing anything about it because the Department for Transport obviously clearly had an agenda to keep the country moving. I think you can take that parallel and put it into the new Localism Bill. We will need to empower the health professionals, the environmental professionals, the Department for Transport, the transport sectors in the local councils. They will all need to work together as a multidisciplinary team to be able to solve this problem. We cannot expect any one Department to take it on. It will require everyone wearing the appropriate hat pulling in the right direction.

Ed Dearnley: Sorry, it has already been said that the health responsibilities will sit at a county level in two-tier arrangements, with air quality in the lower tier, but there are some advantages of health being where it is and being in the same local authority as the transport functions, which of course are the main lever for improving air quality. There is an opportunity there to link up health and transport and make sure that we tackle the air quality and other health aspects of transport.

Q28 Neil Carmichael: How would you strengthen the Government proposals-in the spirit, of course, of the pause that we are having on Health and Social Care Reform Bill?

Richard Kemp: As far as public health is concerned, I would want to clarify two things. Firstly, what are the key targets that the Government want to work with local government to set locally? Of course, that in the context of what we are discussing today could include clean air targets properly assessed. The other thing we have to work out is what resource, and not just the financial resource, is being transferred from the health service to local government. Because there are some signs that parts of the health service are shelling out the public health functions now so that there is not so much left to transfer, and that is of concern for us. But in terms of the principles and directions, this is going to be much more about how we in local government do the integration when it comes to us than any more prescription or direction from central Government.

Q29 Neil Carmichael: One of the things that struck me during the course of this last hour is that none of you has really mentioned the role of agencies and organisations like, for example, the Environment Agency, which does have quite a pivotal role. In my own constituency we have a rather paradoxical problem of a compost-making factory producing dirty air for local residents. It is fascinating to notice that various councils and the Environment Agency are all involved and all telling each other what to do. I just think that is something we might want to tease out because, of course, the role of agencies is an important one as well, and where they fit into the new vista of local government.

Ed Dearnley: I think that is a great point. From the Environment Agency’s perspective, industrial pollution is a problem in certain areas like your own. Across the country, however, traffic is the biggest problem, and the Highways Agency have quite a large responsibility for dealing with air quality. At the moment, there is no binding responsibility on the Highways Agency to improve air quality. They simply have a duty not to make it worse. So certainly from our perspective we would like to see a stronger binding responsibility on the Highways Agency to actually actively improve air quality.

Richard Kemp: I treat the quangos as central Government, so the Highways Agency have a massive role to play in the motorway system but I class them all together. They would be included in my analysis of what central should do, and its agencies, and what local could do, and where we meet in the middle. The example you have given would seem to me to be a prime one that locally there should be responsibility but there needs to be some national legislation or framework for doing it. I do not see a conflict between central and local. It is knowing who does what at the right time because we have different roles and responsibilities and opportunities.

Q30 Simon Wright: I have heard from you some comments today on how you feel low emission zones can make a contribution to improving air quality. I have an LEZ in my constituency; it has been there for the last three years. I wonder if you could say a bit about what evidence there is for their effectiveness and also perhaps elaborate on the costs and risks associated with establishing LEZs.

Professor Kelly: LEZs are relatively new for the UK, and to be able to establish their effectiveness you can either look at the change in the fleet characteristics that are using that area that the LEZ is administering. For example, in London we have very clear evidence that we now have cleaner vehicles coming into London than we did have before 2008. The more convincing evidence is has air quality improved as a consequence, and that is a much more difficult question. There has been work done on it. You need to have your monitors in the right place. You need to have a decent time series of information before the LEZ is introduced and afterwards. You need to be looking at the right pollutants. In this particular case of the LEZs to deal with diesel, heavy duty vehicles, then you need to be measuring black carbon, which is not done in too many places. Those are the issues.

However, I can say that the information that is now beginning to appear in respect of the London LEZ is that it is having a beneficial effect on the type of pollutant that it was introduced to deal with, and that is black carbon. What we need to do is to go down the line and find out if we can see the associated health benefit of that, but to be honest that is another five to 10 years away.

Ed Dearnley: I think this is an area where we can work with our European neighbours as well. There is certainly a blossoming number of low emission zones all across Europe now, and there are studies being done on the effectiveness of these. As Frank said, they seem to be effective, particularly for PM10. As I mentioned earlier, a national framework would make it much easier for local authorities to establish them as well as a certification scheme for retrofit equipment for NOx.

On diesel vehicles, we have evidence now that perhaps some of the Euro standards have not been as effective as they could be for NOx, so I think we need to make sure that low emission zones when they are set up implement criteria that will improve air quality, and the evidence suggests that this will have a measurable effect on air quality. That should be realistically perhaps a minimum of Euro 4 for diesel vehicles and then jump straight to Euro 6 when that standard is available.

Professor Kelly: Sorry, you also mentioned costs.

Simon Wright: Yes, costs and risks.

Professor Frank Kelly: Yes, so again, looking at London, the costs are very, very high for the scheme because it is a technology-based one. If you look at what has been done in Germany, they have a much cheaper system where it is just done by the colour, the equivalent of the tax disc in the car, and it can, therefore, be rolled out across whatever city in Germany wants to introduce it, at quite a low cost. I think there is a big question there about what we want to do in the UK. I imagine we want to go for the low-cost scheme. From my point of view, from a public health viewpoint, I do not see a risk; I only see benefit.

James Grugeon: The risk is not doing it.

Professor Kelly: Yes. I know that one of your interests is what has happened in respect of the information base that we are relying on in respect of linking air pollution and health since the last inquiry. It has not been a long time, but there has been confirmation that these figures in respect of loss of life and increased symptoms are correct, and they are being confirmed across the world. But the really big advance has been a new study that has come out of America, which has demonstrated for the first time that if you actually do improve air quality in an area, you can see an improvement in health as a consequence over a 20year period. This is in respect of fine particle concentrations, which have been improved due to the Air Quality Act brought in in the States.

We are beginning to turn the corner. It is not all bad news-poor air quality, poor health. If you improve air quality, if you take action to do that, you will see public health benefit.

Q31 Dr Whitehead: Just a minor point. What evidence is there of the extent to which low emission zones permanently drive out high emissions or, alternatively, the extent to which they offset them?

Professor Kelly: The higher emitting vehicles?

Dr Whitehead: Yes.

Professor Kelly: The London scheme is administered by these automatic number plate recognition cameras, which are linked to the type of engine and fuel of that vehicle. The evidence is that those vehicles that are higher polluters are not entering the M25.

Q32 Dr Whitehead: I understand that, but then they may go somewhere else.

Professor Kelly: True, they are going somewhere else. They definitely are. We know that, of the large fleet operators, some have modernised their fleets, others have relocated where their vehicles are going.

Q33 Dr Whitehead: I would assume that, say, a national policy such as we have mentioned in Holland and Germany would effectively drive that out systematically as opposed to people saying, "Well, I am not going to drive my vehicle into that zone but I will drive somewhere else"?

Ed Dearnley: Yes, absolutely. If you basically use a low emission zone in London, then those vehicles can go elsewhere. If you do it in all the UK’s largest cities, then they have nowhere to go.

Q34 Zac Goldsmith: Is there any evidence that that has happened?

Professor Frank Kelly: Sorry, which?

Zac Goldsmith: That these vehicles that would otherwise have come to London are going elsewhere, to non low carbon zones?

Professor Frank Kelly: I do not have the data before me, but we know that the turnover of the fleet has not been sufficient to have removed all those polluting lorries from the road, so they must have gone somewhere else-probably in the UK, and probably into the continent.

Q35 Zac Goldsmith: I have a whole range of questions. I am going to be brutal and cram them down. Very briefly, maybe just one answer, why do you think the EU vehicle standards have not reduced nitrogen dioxide as much as we had expected? Is there a particular reason? Is it lack of research, lack of understanding about the cause? What do you think it is?

Professor Kelly: There is a very simple answer. We did not know it at the time of the last report, but the research now has been done, funded by DEFRA. The vehicle manufacturers have to produce emission estimates for their vehicles in the factory on a particular test bed. Under those conditions, obviously everything is optimised and you can get very, very good emission outputs when you run those tests. In the real world, when the vehicle is in a major city and it is going much slower than you would expect in the normal urban cycle, then the technology does not operate to the same efficiency. As a consequence, the pollution may be two or three times higher than it was at the factory setting. That has been true since Euro 3, and unfortunately, as scientists, all the work that we have done based around all these schemes that we are proposing have been using inaccurate emission factors. They are based on the factory settings, not the real world settings.

Q36 Zac Goldsmith: Is that problem being addressed, though?

Professor Kelly: Has it been properly addressed? It has been published by Government; it is recognised. Properly addressing it will have to be done at the EU level, because the EU sets the emission standards for vehicles, so they will need to introduce new types of tests. We will need to check those in the real world with independent tests.

Richard Kemp: Another problem, certainly for some of the vehicles that we use, is that you might think a bin lorry is a bin lorry, and it looks the same whether it is in a rural or an urban area, by and large, but it does a very different job. In an urban area, it stops every 10 yards and it uses its engines in one way. If it is rural, it might stop every 10 yards for half an hour, then it is 20 miles up to the next one. The engines are not optimised at the factory to deal with the individual needs, and I do not think they are optimised within local government either to deal with the different rounds and things. There is a learning curve for us all there. If you think about how much petrol we could save, or diesel, and then the private sector could do the same, you can see that there is a major public awareness campaign here about how to make the best use of your fleets.

Q37 Zac Goldsmith: I am going to move on, because we have so little time. You may want to postpone answering this question and submit something, but it would be interesting to have from you an idea of what you think are the most cost-effective technologies or practices for improving or reducing emissions from vehicles, and secondly, what can happen either at national or local government level to encourage the uptake of these practices and technologies? You might want to just agree to send something in on that.

Ed Dearnley: Can I take your first point? Diesel is basically the source of most of our air quality problems from transport. Diesel has been implicitly encouraged for the light vehicles anyway through the tax system. If you get a company car now, you buy a diesel vehicle, because it makes sense financially to do so. In heavy vehicles, diesel is the default choice. We have not really looked at all as a nation at other fuels particularly for heavy vehicles. I would draw attention to gas vehicles. They are used quite extensively in many other parts of the world. Los Angeles, for example, a city that is famed for its poor air quality, has now converted all its buses to natural gas. Natural gas is very clean. It burns, it is an intrinsically clean fuel, and you use it in your home to cook on. The UK has not supported natural gas-

Q38 Zac Goldsmith: Have they done that as a result of a policy direction, or another factor?

Ed Dearnley: I think that in the UK we have assumed for air quality that the Euro standards will do the job of cleaning up heavy vehicles in particular, so we have not thought it is actually worthwhile looking at gas vehicles. As the evidence is now suggesting that the Euro standards are not cleaning up heavy vehicles, gas vehicles is a great way to go.

Q39 Zac Goldsmith: No, but what triggered the shift in LA? Why did they go through that transition?

Ed Dearnley: Because they felt they needed to do more on air quality and they felt-

Q40 Zac Goldsmith: It was a policy decision?

Professor Frank Kelly: Yes, it was policy led.

Ed Dearnley: Yes, policy decision, yes.

Q41 Zac Goldsmith: I didn’t know that. Does anyone else want to address that point, or I shall move on?

Professor Kelly: Well, the other point we have not mentioned yet is that shipping is an ever increasing problem. The UK is an island. We have a lot of shipping emissions coming into the UK. The solution is going to be European, at the European level, but again California is leading the field here, because they will not allow ships to come within a 200mile zone of the coast while they have their main engines on. They have to have electric generator equipment. That is to stop the pollution coming in from the sea.

Q42 Chair: Can I just add to that? In some of the evidence that we have had there is a reference to poor quality as a result of foreign sources. Would you include shipping in that and add other things to the list as well?

Professor Kelly: Yes.

Q43 Chair: Could you just elaborate on that?

Professor Kelly: Of course, I am not sure what the particular reference was, but air pollution does not recognise country boundaries, so we do get a lot of pollution, certainly secondary particles, coming into the UK from the continent. But at the same time we export a lot of pollution, so it is a bit of a redundant argument. I think we need at the EU level to decrease emissions from all sources.

Q44 Zac Goldsmith: Just on this point of ports, how big a factor is airport capacity, aviation capacity generally? Is it possible to see an expansion in overall airport capacity without falling foul of EU air quality rules and specifically in relation to mega projects like the third runway, which is on hold or has been cancelled but I am sure it will rear its head again at some point? How big a factor is aviation in this issue?

Professor Kelly: My understanding is that it is not the planes themselves, although they are not totally clean, it is the movement of people to and from the airport. It is the transport system-if you add another half a million passengers that need to get back and forth from that airport, it is how you get them there.

Q45 Zac Goldsmith: Why would it not be the planes themselves?

Professor Frank Kelly: Because they do emit pollution when they take off and land, so it is within 100 ft, but once they actually are in flight then the pollutants that they emit are dispersed so much that it is really what travels around the atmosphere, around the globe, it is not what we are breathing in, generally. That is why local transport in a city is such a problem.

Ed Dearnley: The original Heathrow consultation on runway 3 suggested, or the air quality modelling for that suggested, that because of vehicles becoming cleaner, there would be headroom for aviation to expand and emit more pollution, without breaching the EU limit. Because we know that the Euro standards are not working for diesel vehicles in particular, that headroom is just not there. So those assumptions that were made in that runway 3 consultation are no longer valid, really.

Q46 Zac Goldsmith: That is interesting. What do you think needs to be done to encourage the public to change their behaviour in relation to lower polluting means of transport?

Richard Kemp: Inform them. I just think there is a massive ignorance there. What you cannot see, what you cannot touch, what you cannot taste, does not exist, so therefore it is not a problem.

Q47 Zac Goldsmith: Sorry, I know that is often the point that is made that this comes down to education, but do you think it is the case that with education you will get a critical mass, enough people changing their behaviour as a result of the information they have taken on, or do you not think it comes down to financial decisions, daytoday cost decisions?

Richard Kemp: It is both, but 10 years ago someone could have asked me the same question about recycling in exactly the same way, and I would have said you have to start. You cannot win this argument without public involvement and public consent because, frankly, people like you and I do respond to what is said to us on the doorstep. We do not just respond to scientific analysis. Unless there are more people clamouring alongside us and with us, we are not going to be able to force these issues forward. It is not going to solve things, getting people involved, but unless there are a lot more people interested in this debate, then I do not think it is going to be a real debate.

Q48 Caroline Lucas: What about specific legislative changes, though? You do not think that any are required?

Richard Kemp: If I was to say one thing as local government, I would like to see far more electric cars. We are not going to be able to do that as local government by ourselves. If I was thinking of having an electric car, I would not buy one now, because I would not be able to plug it in and use it anywhere. If we want to have any fundamental change, then we have to work out who the first person or first group of people is to do something. Now, this is a national thing. If the Government were to work with all the electricity providers to do something, then we could do something and you could then challenge me as a Liverpool councillor to react to it, which I cannot do. I think I have made that point on that, but there are several other areas perhaps where that combination of new thinking at a national level combined with local action could make a fundamental difference. But a lot of people would change to electric cars if there was a place they could plug in.

Q49 Zac Goldsmith: I think that is a really good example of the tension between national and local, because if a local authority was seen to be spending money laying out a whole grid on the assumption that there will be electric cars, they would be hammered.

Richard Kemp: Eric Pickles would be down on us like a proverbial ton of bricks-and that is a ton of bricks.

Q50 Zac Goldsmith: Yes, quite a few tons. If you are going to create the provision without there being a clear demand, then you will be accused, particularly you in local government, of wasting money.

Richard Kemp: Yes, it is chicken and egg.

Zac Goldsmith: Chicken and egg. The question is in what order it should happen. I cannot see either national or local government fully breaking through.

Q51 Chair: But doesn’t that come back to where we started about the joinedup agenda of Government, whereby if you actually had Treasury and investment decisions in terms of highways investment, again accessing airports or wherever, but also if you had a business agenda that was looking towards the renewable technologies of the future and the investment and linking that to the local enterprise zones, you would actually have a strategic national direction of travel that would be in the process of dealing with the environmental considerations such as air pollution at the local level and fitting that into the climate change agenda? Why isn’t that joined-up thinking actually happening, because then you would get the public understanding what the issues are?

Professor Kelly: And the public health benefits.

Chair: And the public health benefits and savings.

Professor Kelly: Yes, which I think are by far the biggest carrot for the Treasury.

Q52 Chair: We have the European Union standards. Is it realistic to expect that we can meet the standards that are laid down?

Professor Kelly: We cannot, certainly for nitrogen dioxide we cannot, but we are not alone. Most of the EU, 27 countries can’t meet it either because the technology that we brought in through the Euro standards does not work and will not work.

Q53 Chair : Mr Grugeon, are you disagreeing with that?

James Grugeon: I would probably agree in terms of NO2, but I think that the targets could be met with a combination of technical and non-technical measures, i.e. behaviour change being taken seriously with a national framework and, as you were talking about, a joinedup approach. We might disagree on that.

Professor Kelly: I don’t think we disagree. I am just being realistic. We have to meet this target. We should have met the target already.

James Grugeon: Yes, we are way out.

Professor Kelly: Government has already said we will not meet it before 2015. I believe that is very optimistic. We have 10 years of not being able to deal with this, I think.

Q54 Chair: Each of you have mentioned innovation and technology. I am just wondering how much take-up there is of the research monies for research and development for new environmental technologies that could over the medium and long term get us much nearer to meeting the targets. Interestingly, I came across, I think it was in Spain, tiles being coated with a special solution that was actually soaking up the smog that was coming down. Are there business innovative solutions along these lines?

Ed Dearnley: Could I just revisit current technology that could help us? The Euro standards have not worked because they have not worked for diesel vehicles. In a way, if we can shift away from diesel vehicles, we can improve air quality. In the light vehicle market for cars, we have gone from diesel vehicles being a fraction, about 10%1, of new car sales to around half in about 10 years. One way we can improve air quality is to start reversing that. There are two simple ways you can do that. You could increase the diesel penalty in the company car taxation system. At the moment it is ineffective; it does not make people consider petrol vehicles or high-efficiency petrol vehicles. Secondly, in the vehicle excise duty system, in both the annual payment and the showroom tax, again a diesel penalty would help to shift people more towards high-efficiency petrol cars rather than diesels.

Q55 Chair: Just one last question, and then we will be within time without any extra time. Do you believe that the Government is communicating the whole risks associated with poor air quality as well as it could, and what could it do to improve that situation?

James Grugeon: We talked a little bit about the metrics that are being used being misleading at best and totally a switch-off in terms of your average member of the public at worst. To reiterate a point that was made earlier, we need to put it in the context of other public health risks that people understand-passive smoking, and so on-and secondly, to start getting into the behaviour change stuff in an engaging way.

Q56 Chair: What about reporting? For example, we have talked a lot about London. You have mentioned other areas-Warrington, I think. I have had people contact me from Walsall and parts of the West Midlands where the M6 is presenting huge problems. What about reporting, and accurate reporting, so that the risk is in the public domain?

Richard Kemp: The Local Government Association on behalf of local government in England in this case has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department for Energy and Climate Change, which looks at some elements of this, because it has begun to work out what each should be doing. It has begun to work out a system in which we monitor each other rather than inspectors just looking at what we do. It is agreeing a series of actions, but that is one set of actions with one Department. We would like to have that memorandum of understanding with central Government, because only if we do that can we make sure that there is proper reporting, there is meaningful reporting, there is reporting to us about something we can do rather than something we cannot do. I would like to see that understanding taken further. If we can do it just for climate change-climate change is a big issue, but you know what I mean, for one particular considered area-then we should be able to expand it further. That is the relationship we want, of equals knowing what we can and cannot do.

James Grugeon: There is a piece in here, and I think you touched on it, for transparency and local monitoring done effectively in reporting so that that information is in the public domain and local politicians and the public can see that.

Chair: Last question, Peter Aldous.

Peter Aldous: No, I was just pointing out the Division bell.

Chair: Oh, right. On that point, we are absolutely within time. Thank you very much indeed for helping stimulate the debate and attending today.

[1] Note from witness – actual figure is 14%

Prepared 11th November 2011