Ministers issue direction for next steps in NO2 plan

Ten local authorities have been directed to take further steps to address nitrogen dioxide emissions from road transport, under supplementary plans outlined by ministers today (5 Oct).

The councils – Dudley, Leicester, Newcastle-under Lyme, Portsmouth, Reading, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Solihull, Basingstoke and Deane, and South Gloucestershire – will have access to funding to implement measures including bus retrofits, improved road signalling and behavioural change campaigns.

Support

Defra has published details of which councils will be directed to introduce new measures to tackle air pollution

In documents published outlining the proposals today, government said it will work with the authorities – through its Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) – to develop further detail of the proposals and funding support for the measures.

The ten were among 33 ‘third wave’ councils to have been directed by government to assess options to improve air quality in light of continued breaches of legal NO2 limits – following the latest High Court ruling on the government’s air quality plan, brought to the courts by green group ClientEarth (see airqualitynews.com story).

The ‘first’ and ‘second’ wave councils were named in previous versions of the government’s NO2 plan.

Under the High Court ruling, ministers were required to set out any additional steps that could be taken by the councils to speed up compliance with the NO2 limits, which have been exceeded since 2010. In some parts of the country, these limits are expected to still be exceeded well into the next decade.

Detailed study

Defra has revealed today that eight of these 33 local authorities will carry out more detailed study outlining how they will tackle more persistent air quality problems they have identified, to be presented to government by 31 October 2019.

These eight are Bolsover, Bradford, Portsmouth, Broxbourne, Newcastle-under-Lyme & Stoke-on-Trent, Leicester and Liverpool.

A further 18 councils named within the government direction are already operating within legal limits or have not found any measures to bring compliance sooner, Defra claimed, adding that these will be expected to ‘maintain their work to reduce pollution levels and improve the quality of the air’.

‘Urgent action’

Commenting on the proposals today, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said: “While air quality has improved significantly in recent years, we know urgent action is still required to tackle roadside air pollution in our towns and cities.

Councils taking steps to address air pollution

“This is why through our £3.5billion national air quality plan, we are working with local authorities across the UK and I am pleased ten local authorities will now implement new measures to drive down pollution.

“The Roads Minister Jesse Norman and I have written to the leaders of all the authorities that have submitted feasibility studies to thank them for their hard work and underline that Defra will continue to support them to improve air quality in their areas.”

ClientEarth

The plans will be followed closely by the legal campaign group ClientEarth, which was granted permission to return to the courts if it could demonstrate that the new plan fails to satisfy legal requirements.

Responding to the publication of the supplentary plan today, the campaigners said that the requirement for some councils to carry out more detailed studies is likely to delay compliance still further.

ClientEarth’s clean air lawyer Katie Nield, said: “Today’s pitiful plan shows that the government’s strategy to tackle air pollution by passing the buck to local authorities is in tatters. It’s essential that the government takes action on a national scale.

“Amazingly, ministers have now ordered more plans, which means more delays. It shows a shocking lack of leadership on a key public health issue.”

The campaigners also suggested that data compiled by a number of authorities in assessing the extent of air quality exceedences in their own areas, hinted at levels of NO2 that far outstripped the government’s own projections in drawing up its national plan.

Ms Nield added: “It’s absolutely staggering that only now, eight years after legal limits came into force, the true extent of the problem is being uncovered for large areas of the country. In the meantime, people in these areas have continued to be exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.”

Also announced today is the Air Quality Grant for 2018-19 which will provide support to local authorities across England to deliver projects to improve air quality.

Applicants in previous years have been awarded funding to install electric vehicle charging points, improve cycling infrastructure and develop local online air quality resources. This year’s grant of £3million is the largest air quality grant to date, Defra said.