UK’s top air quality official has retired and highlights importance of Davis Commission plus the need for support for air quality policies from health sector and others.
Daniel Instone, the UK’s top civil servant handling air quality matters retired this week after a career spanning a range of positions covering environmental issues for different governments.
Mr Instone leaves his position as head of air quality at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after some successes in getting the issue of air quality more understood and accepted within government and outside.
But, he said that there is still a lot to be done on air quality although he is particularly pleased that air quality is now an indicator on the public health outcomes framework. “It was hard getting it accepted as a public health indicator. We achieved this 18 months ago and it only became operational this spring. It is important that it puts health officials in the position of being able to put weight on air quality and noise issues.â€?
The public health community, Mr Instone told AirQualityNews, need to understand the importance of this. “They have to back up policy making on air quality and as well support initially unpopular transport measures.â€?
This question of support for measures to help reduce or prevent air pollution is something that Mr Instone has strong views on.
He believes that it is important for lobby groups to express their concerns over air quality and reasons that he has not seen as much as he expected from some organisations whereas, when he worked on waste issues at Defra, there was a lot of lobbying for increased recycling targets.
“Support for policies is essential from outside of government whether it is on low emission zones, changing tax incentives or changes to transport policy. There are always losers and gainers in the short term and the problem is that a policy decision will command attention from the loser. I think it is important for politicians and council officers to feel that here is a body of people who are willing to support them if the going gets rough. That is one of the real messages that I have picked up from my career.â€?
Public health officials have their role too, he argues. “In the 19th century public health officials realised that they had to do something about water quality. That was public health professionals getting out of the health box. There now needs to be more interest in air and noise issues.â€?
Mr Instone believes that there is still ‘low hanging fruit’ which can be reached in terms of improving air quality but that there needs to be more coordination and cooperation among all the groups involved.
Noise has been another issue on his agenda. “Air pollution is not so visible, whereas noise is highly audible. People don’t see how they can tackle it though. The problem has been that the people who might benefit from action on noise pollution have a sense of powerlessness. There is a massive amount of concern all the same.â€?
Defra is to publish a noise attitude survey later this year. At Defra, said Mr Instone, it was realised that while vehicles have got quieter, there are more vehicles and expectations are rising.
“Noisy industries also find housing near them. That poses a problem, the trick is to plan in advance and how brownfield sites are developed remains a very big issue.â€?
Looking ahead, Mr Instone says that the question of future expansion, being looked at by the Davis Commission, is a huge noise issue. He believes that there ought to be more recognition of the fact that the noise issue from Heathrow has a “massive and higher exposureâ€? than other European airports.
In terms of career path, Mr Instone started his work at the department in 2001 focusing on water quality and then covering waste policy from 2005-2009. He has spent the last four years working on on air pollution and noise.
He also worked for the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit at the millennium on issues concerning malaria and prior to that he was in the Department of Transport which included general policy work for transport.
He says he is most proud of working on a Green Paper, which became a White Paper, that during the 1990s changed the way of looking at transport and environmental factors. He recalls: “The issue of managing demand started to emerge then and was included that green paper, getting the message across that the increase in traffic on roads cannot be accommodated but had to be managed.â€?
As for the future, he said: “While I generally plan to keep involved in current issues, I have no firm plans at the moment, but will, from my perspective outside of Defra, be following air quality and noise issues since they have been a big part of my experience.â€?