Clean Air Plan welcomed but funding questioned

Draft proposals published by the government today for tackling air pollution from sources including agriculture, aviation and domestic solid fuel burning have received a mixed welcome.

The Draft Clean Air Strategy was launched for consultation by Environment Secretary Michael Gove this morning, who said that the strategy sets out “how we can all take action and playing an important role in cleaning up our air” (see airqualitynews.com story).

Emissions sources addressed in the Clean Air Stretegy include Non-road mobile machinery, ports, domestic solid fuel burning and agriculture

Launch of the plan for consultation has been welcomed, but some critics of the proposals claim that there is a lack of action to address emissions from road transport, and questions have been raised as to the levels of funding likely to be available to local authorities to deliver on policy proposals.

The Local Government Association was among those to highlight the need for sufficient funding for the plans, if additional resources are to be required for councils to deliver on the policy pledges, particularly for those authorities already obligated under the 2017 NO2 plan (see airqualitynews.com story).

Local Authority-centric proposals include plans to give councils new powers to control the use of polluting non-road mobile machinery as well as proposing new powers around the enforcement of smoke control areas.

Funding

Responding to the launch of the draft plan consultation today, Cllr Martin Tett, environment spokesman for the LGA, said that for the plan to be successful, it will need to be: “underpinned by local flexibility and sufficient funding” as well as being “accompanied by robust national action”.

Cllr Martin Tett, LGA

He added: “It is also important that councils have the powers to further tackle air pollution, particularly with regard to clean air zones as well as expanded road and traffic measures. If we’re to truly tackle air pollution, we need government support to enable us to deliver effective local plans, and robust national action to help the country transition to low-emission vehicles and power generation.”

Tony Lewis, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said he hoped that the latest plan ‘is a sign that the government is finally taking air quality seriously’, but as well as warning that funding for delivery of the proposals will also be important.

In particular CIEH has welcomed the pledge that government will introduce primary legislation to address air quality, but warned that progress “can only be measured when the final legislation is made clear”.

Mr Lewis said: “Like many, we have been waiting for this strategy to see if the government intends to start living up to its recent promises on the environment, and we are happy to see the commitment to consulting on, and introducing, primary legislation to start tackling the very real air quality crisis this country faces.

“We also welcome the commitment to legislate against the sale and combustion of known polluting fuels, as long as this is practical and sensible, and does not discriminate against the most disadvantaged in society.

“However, whilst giving local government the powers to take much-needed action is a step forwards, there must be clear leadership from central government. There cannot be simply more abdication of responsibilities to an already over stretched and ill resourced local government sector.”

‘Overdue’

ClientEarth, the legal campaign group which has led a number successful challenges against the government’s plans for tackling nitrogen dioxide air pollution in towns and cities, described the proposals as ‘well overdue’.

However, the organisation’s chief executive, James Thornton, was critical of the plan for failing to take account of emissions from road transport sources. He said: “We’ve been forced to take legal action several times to shock the government into taking action over illegal air pollution in this country.

ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton

“While the government’s focus on air quality from different sources is welcome, road transport is still the main source of illegal air pollution in our towns and cities. We need a national network of Clean Air Zones to take the most polluting vehicles out of the most polluted areas.

“We also want the government to commit to a new Clean Air Act fit for the 21st Century. Ministers should enshrine people’s right to breathe clean air in UK law and drive greater ambition to protect their health.”

Elsewhere, Matthew Farrow, executive director of the Environmental Industries Commission has welcomed the government’s pledge to halve the number of people living in areas where concentrations of particulate matter are above the 10ug/m3 WHO guideline by 2025.

He also welcomed proposals to move beyond minimum standards for industrial emissions, the intention to bring in new enforcement powers for local authorities to regulate Non Road Mobile Machinery and to make tampering with an emissions device a legal offence.

He said: “The draft Strategy is right to focus on protecting public health and the target of halving the number of people exposed to PM levels above WHO guidelines is an important step in the right direction, though this must be supplemented by a ‘continuous improvement’ approach as used in Canada, given that there is no known safe limit for particulates.”

Urgency

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, a long-time critic of the government’s air quality policy, has also described the Clean Air Strategy as a step forward, but called for ministers to ‘match City Hall’s urgency, in bringing forward fresh measures.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan

He said: “I’ve long urged government to introduce a new Clean Air Bill and I’m therefore pleased to see a commitment to new updated legislation in order to give cities more powers to act on pollution,” adding: “Ministers need to match our urgency and provide the real resources and extra powers cities around the country need, plus a new environmental watchdog with teeth that is fit for purpose, as well as introducing a national scrappage fund to get the dirtiest, most polluting vehicles off our streets now.”

Sophie Power, chief executive of air quality monitoring and technology developer Airlabs told airqualitynews.com that more details would be required before the proposals could be evaluated in detail, adding that local authorities would also need clarity on the levels of funding likely to be available to deliver the proposals.

“A lot of the commentary this morning has picked up that there is no plan for vehicles, and that is a negative. But there are things [in the plan] that they have not done before. Firstly they are talking about WHO limits and it is the first time they have made reference to that. They have never had to address particulates and what they are talking about on wood burners is a positive step forward.”