72.The 2017 plan stated that a £255 million Implementation Fund would be available to the councils required to develop clean air plans. An additional £220 million Clean Air Fund was announced in the 2017 Autumn Budget to support the implementation of these air quality measures and, in some cases, obviate the need for charging zones.
73.In February 2016 the Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) was established by Defra and the Department for Transport to coordinate delivery of the Government’s plans for achieving NO2 compliance. According to the NAO, JAQU expected the £255 million implementation fund to cover:
74.Many witnesses believed that the funding committed to improving air quality was insufficient. The Mayor of Greater Manchester condemned the existing level of financial support as “simply inadequate” for both local and national action plans. Many councils are reportedly struggling to meet even local air quality monitoring requirements due to financial constraints. A recent report in the Lancet concluded that “the £255 million ‘Implementation Fund’ currently committed under the 2017 plan is inadequate to the scale of the problem”.
75.Many local authorities record unlawful breaches of NO2 levels but were not required to produce clean air plans. The 2017 plan nevertheless made it clear that these councils should take immediate action “if there are measures they could take to bring forward the point where they meet legal limits”. Some observers suggested that Defra’s air quality proposals and support mechanisms were narrowly drawn and disadvantaged many councils with serious air quality problems. We received complaints that multiple local authorities exceeding NO2 limits were unable to access financial support for air quality improvement measures. The Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM) explained that councils which the Government identified as having a “non-persistent exceedence” were not eligible for the same funding as the 23 councils named in the 2017 plan. The IAQM added it was therefore unlikely that these local authorities would introduce new measures to tackle air quality, and believed a wider roll-out of support and funding would be beneficial.
76.ClientEarth criticised the fact that 45 local authority areas identified in Defra’s models as exceeding legal limits were not included in the 2017 plan and were not properly benefiting from its funding and support structures. The High Court found on 21 February 2018 that the approach to tackling air quality in these 45 local authority areas did “not contain measures sufficient to ensure substantive compliance”. Prior to this decision, Dr Coffey defended the decision not to include these authorities, saying that mitigation measures “will take some time to come into effect” and the councils would in any case “not be in breach by the timeline of 2021”, which Defra believed would be the earliest date for getting comprehensive schemes in place. She further stated that other councils with air quality problems “have been able to apply for grants to support them”, but acknowledged this support was “more modest in total”. Exchequer Secretary to HM Treasury Andrew Jones told us HM Treasury “will provide sufficient funding to meet our legal obligations on air quality”.
77.Local authorities face significant financial restrictions and this is directly affecting their ability to meet air pollution targets. The narrow scope of the 2017 plan restricts councils struggling with air quality from accessing the support and guidance they need to reduce pollution levels as quickly as possible. The funding committed does not reflect the externalised health costs of air pollution or the savings that improvements to air quality would bring. The 2017 NO2 air quality plan should be widened to offer direction, financial resources, and technical support to the 45 local authority areas which breach NO2 limit levels but are not included under the current action framework. This should be accompanied with commensurate financial increases in the Implementation Fund and Clean Air Fund.
78.Some observers suggested that local authorities could use the revenues from charging zones to raise funds for investment in local road and transport systems. The Mayor of London also noted the potential for using charging zone revenues, saying that whilst the T-Charge was not operating for profit, “over a period of time it will bring in revenues” which would be ring-fenced for clean air initiatives. The SMMT said however that local authorities “should not use receipts from Clean Air Zone charges as a revenue raising approach”, and stressed the importance of charging schemes being “clearly communicated, understood and related to specific policy outcomes”.
79.Another suggestion involved ‘making the polluter pay’. ClientEarth said the VW scandal was likely to be the “tip of the iceberg” and praised initiatives in Germany to secure 250 million euros from the automobile industry for a clean air fund. ClientEarth criticised the UK Government’s inability to extract substantial fines from VW for the emissions scandal, and said it was unclear why clean air initiatives were only being funded by the taxpayer. Transport Minister Jesse Norman said “we are continuing to press Volkswagen to get it fixed as quickly as possible”, and maintained the Government was “doing what we can within proper obedience to the rule of law”.
80.Defra should examine additional ways of raising funds for air quality improvements. This should first involve establishing a fund for clean air initiatives partially financed by the private sector. This should be organised by December 2018. The Government should provide us with a progress update in response to this Report. Defra should further examine the expected financial returns from charging zones and the feasibility of allowing local authorities to use this money to fund local air quality schemes. Defra should inform us of the outcome of these assessments in response to this Report.
81.The initial focus of the Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) was on assisting the five cities expected to develop Clean Air Zones under the 2015 plan. This remit was then expanded to provide financial support, guidance and coordination to the local authorities required to develop clean air plans under the 2017 strategy. JAQU has a system of account managers to track progress and support communication and coordination with the designated local authorities.
82.Poor air quality is not however limited to the local authorities named in the 2015 and 2017 plans. There are 498 Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) for NO2 in England, as of January 2018. Our evidence suggested potential knowledge and capacity gaps among some local authorities regarding the most effective ways to tackle air pollution. The Energy Saving Trust believed that some councils “lack the capacity and expertise” to tackle air quality effectively, and was sceptical as to whether there was sufficient support to ensure local officers could make the best use of the data sets and technical tools provided by Defra.
83.The National Centre for Atmospheric Science described the available evidence base to support local decision-makers as “inadequate”, and said central Government had a key role to play in improving the collection and synthesis of evidence to help councils make better choices. The Local Government Technical Advisers Group noted that council budget cuts had undermined the capacity of local authorities to deal with air quality effectively. Local Government Association said it helped knowledge-sharing by holding seminars and facilitating an online information-sharing hub.
84.We asked Ministers how they ensured all councils were taking appropriate action. The then Minister for Local Government Marcus Jones told us: “when we have concerns about a particular council, we ask the LGA quite often to look into those concerns and assist our Department in making sure that some of the functions of local government are being carried through properly”. Defra told us that the Government “will also consider further steps to ensure that air quality improves in areas that are modelled to be below but close to the legal limit and to ensure that forecast levels in such areas remain compliant”.
85.We recognise the need for councils to take ownership of delivering local solutions to local problems. However, we do not believe significant, sustainable reductions in air pollution across the country will be achieved on the scale needed without additional support. Existing mechanisms do not appear to be delivering the necessary results. The Joint Air Quality Unit should develop a centralised support programme available to all local authorities to address current and prevent future air pollution problems. Plans for the support programme should be developed with the aim of making a service available nationally by January 2019. We would be grateful for written confirmation of the establishment of this service.
86.We heard there were a range of low cost interventions that could have a significant positive impact on air quality but did not feature prominently in the 2017 plan. One suggestion involved taking greater action against engine idling, particularly outside schools. Some observers believed that greater enforcement powers over idling could be given to local authorities to tackle the problem.
87.Including emissions on a vehicle labelling system was also raised as a measure that deserved greater attention. The National Audit Office calculated that including air quality emissions on new car labels could deliver £2.8 million in health-related benefits at a negligible cost to Government. Urban Transport Group said this labelling system should extend to the second hand car market, and recommended that the Government publish real-world driving emissions data to help consumers when comparing vehicle choices. Car manufacturers must be obligated to test vehicles to real world standards and publish this in place of other emissions specifications.
88.The then Exchequer Secretary to HM Treasury Andrew Jones told us that “We have new labelling regulations coming into force in 2018, which will provide significantly greater customer information” and confirmed this would include air quality information.
89.We welcome the proposal to introduce air quality emissions information in vehicle labelling, and urge the Government to provide clear guidance on how this will be extended to the second-hand market as quickly and effectively as possible. The Government should also consider aligning this labelling system with an easily accessible online register of real-world emissions to help consumers make informed choices. We recommend the Government re-examines its anti-idling policy guidance to assess whether higher fines and stricter enforcement mechanisms should be used to discourage motorists from idling.
160 Defra, , July 2017, para 19
161 NAO, Air quality, 2017, para 3.17
162 Mayor of Greater Manchester () p.2
163 British Lung Foundation (), section 5
164 Lancet Countdown 2017 Report: , October 2017, p.17
165 ClientEarth () section 2
166 Defra, , July 2017, p.3
167 Professor Peckham () section 3
168 ClientEarth () section 2, Mayor of Greater Manchester ()
169 Institute of Air Quality Management () section 5
170 Institute of Air Quality Management () section 5
171 ClientEarth () section 2
172 High Court of Justice, ClientEarth No.3 v Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs & Ors  EWHC 315 (Admin), 21 February 2018, Para 104
176 Dr David Metz () p.1
178 SMMT () para 22
183 National Audit Office, , HC 529, November 2017, para 3.8 – 3.9
185 Energy Saving Trust () p.5
186 National Centre for Atmospheric Science () para 54
187 Local Government Technical Advisers Group ()
188 Local Government Association (LGA) ()
190 Defra () p.7
191 New Forest Friends of the Earth ()
192 Professor Peckham () section 4
193 Mayor of London ()
194 NAO, , 2017, figure 16
195 Urban Transport Group () para 5.5
196 Q236 [Andrew Jones]
Published: 15 March 2018