This is now our third report on air quality in five years. Our predecessor Environmental Audit Committee reported on air quality in 2010. In 2011 we published a follow-up report. Our main recommendations for the Government in 2010 and 2011 have not been implemented. Meanwhile air pollution continues to be an invisible killer, costing the lives of 29,000 people per year. The UK Government has been found guilty of failing to meet EU air quality targets in our cities, some of which will not meet the required limits until 2030. However, meeting EU standards should be the minimum requirement. Regardless of EU rulings it is unacceptable that UK citizens could have their health seriously impaired over decades before this public health problem is brought under control.
The Government must act urgently to:
- Update the 2007 Air Quality Strategy, adopting a cross-Government approach with clear demarcation of responsibilities between departments and between central and local government;
- Meet EU nitrogen dioxide targets as soon as possible;
- Engage with local authorities to establish best practice in tackling air pollution across the UK;
- Introduce a national framework for low emission zones to help local authorities reduce air pollution;
- Adjust planning guidance to protect air quality in local planning and development;
- Build in air quality obligations to transport infrastructure;
- Examine fiscal and other measures to gradually encourage a move away from diesel vehicles towards low emission options;
- Close legal loopholes to end the practice of removing filter systems from existing vehicles;
- Apply pressure at European level to ensure effective EU legislation and emission standards backed up by a robust testing regime; and
- Institute a national public awareness campaign to increase understanding, publicising the UK-AIR forecast website and encourage measures to reduce air pollution.
A fresh approach is needed for the health challenge we face, coordinating action by local authorities and communities as well as the Government.