Defra and DfT set up joint air quality team

UK departments for transport and the environment have set up a joint unit specifically to deliver recent national plans to improve air quality and meet EU limits, it has emerged.

The new Unit will be based at Defra's Nobel House headquarters in London

Defra’s Nobel House headquarters in London

An email sent to stakeholders this week (April 18) and seen by AirQualityNews.com explains that a new joint unit between the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Transport (DfT) has been established.

A spokeswoman for Defra also confirmed to AirQualityNews.com that the Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) has been set up.

The new Unit will focus on delivering the UK’s national air quality plans to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide. These plans were publically consulted on by Defra last year and include proposals to establish Clean Air Zones in five UK cities by 2020 (see AirQualityNews.com story).

According to the email, the Unit will develop more detailed proposals for the Clean Air Zone framework and legislation to mandate zones in certain cities, with a view to consulting on these later this year. It will work “particularly closely” with the cities required or wishing to implement Zones, Defra said.

A number of Defra and DfT colleagues who worked to develop these plans have transferred into the new Unit, while others are involved as part of a wider virtual team, the email explains.

Although hosted at Defra, the new team will contain both Defra and DfT staff as well as the close involvement of a number of other government departments and delivery bodies.

Led by Defra’s deputy director of flood risk management, Susanna May, the Unit will report through both departments to Defra air quality minister Rory Stewart and Under-Secretary of State for Transport Andrew Jones.

The Joint Air Quality Unit will report to Defra minister Rory Stewart (pictured) and DfT's Andrew Jones

The Joint Air Quality Unit will report to Defra minister Rory Stewart (pictured) and DfT’s Andrew Jones

Day-to-day responsibility for air quality matters will remain with Defra, including that for local air quality management, EU and international aspects of air quality and industrial emissions.

National air quality work regarding non-NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) pollutants will also continue to be taken forward by the Defra air quality and industrial emissions team.

Meanwhile, work wider environmental issues related to transport are still being taken forward by DfT and its teams for international vehicle standards, roads and aviation will remain unchanged.

The Joint Air Quality Unit will maintain “very strong links” with all these work areas, according to the Defra email.

Court Action

News that a joint unit has been established comes as the government faces the threat of further court action from environmental NGO ClientEarth over its recent air quality plans to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (see AirQualityNews.com story). Further details of the court action are expected to be announced shortly.