Scientists, charities and campaign groups publish responses to the government’s consultation on local air quality management in England
Scientists, charities and campaign groups have issued their responses to the government’s consultation on local air quality management, which closed for submissions last week (September 13).
The consultation concerns regulations in the Environment Act 1995, which established the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) system under which all local authorities in England are required to regularly review and assess air quality in their areas against national objectives for several air pollutants.
However, according to Defra, the LAQM has not been comprehensively reviewed since it came into operation in 1997 and there is a need to ‘reinvigorate and refocus LAQM’.
But, options for changes in the consultation have garnered negative responses from a number of organisations – such as Environmental Protection UK, Healthy Air UK and King’s College London scientists – especially in relation to the government’s preferred option of removing obligations for local authorities to monitor local air quality altogether.
Labour MPs, London Assembly members and the Green Party have all previously hit out at the proposals to remove air quality monitoring obligations (see airqualitynews.com story).
Air quality scientists from King’s College London’s Environmental Research Group (ERG), Stephen Hedley and Gary Fuller, called for ‘greater ongoing assessment of actions’ in their response to the consultation.
The university’s ERG runs the London Air website, which provides a map and hourly updates on levels of a number of pollutants in the capital.
In their response, the scientists describe air quality management and associated legislation at national and EU level as ‘convoluted’, with various sectors of government having to comply with different requirements.
In contrast, however, they state that local air quality management has ‘provided innovative solutions with an important connection to local communities’, adding that more support is needed for councils from government on the issue.
And, the King’s College London scientists propose that a new central government Air Quality Commissioner office be created, as many departments and agencies that have a role in achieving air quality objectives are ‘outside the remit of Defra’.
They suggest that the new office be independent of government in order to ‘scrutinise, adjudicate, recommend and direct stakeholders on air quality actions’.
Additionally, they call for greater involvement in local air quality management from stakeholders such as the Highways Agency (HA) to actively assess air quality across the geographic areas that they are responsible for.
Environmental Protection UK (EPUK)’s response to the consultation rejects all of the government’s suggestions put forward, stating that ‘none of the four proposed options for changing local air quality management are appropriate’.
The charity adds that the government’s preferred option to remove English council’s duty to monitor air quality would have ‘devastating implications across all spheres of air quality management, assessment and research’.
However, EPUK’s response – which was written by vice chair of the charity’s air quality committee, Sarah Legge – also said that it agrees that the current air quality reporting requirements for local authorities in England ‘could be simplified’.
Currently, councils with Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) are obligated to produce Screening Assessments, Detailed Assessments or Further Assessments.
As a result, the charity has put forward its own preferred proposals for local air quality management changes, which are to maintain the current system but require councils to consolidate current air quality reporting into a single annual air quality improvement document.
EPUK states its recommended ‘streamlined approach’ would ‘lead to cost savings compared to the existing system, while delivering air quality and public health benefits’.
EPUK also calls for ‘better cooperation between different tiers of government and for councils in England to be required to take action to reduce levels of particulate matter PM2.5 in their areas.
Campaign group Healthy Air UK also responded in agreement that the current LAQM system was in ‘urgent need of reform’.
The group’s response states: ‘We do need a simplified system which clearly allocates roles and responsibilities for taking action which delivers improvements in public health.’
However, the group adds that the government’s proposals for change ‘seem designed to mask the true scale of England’s air quality crisis rather than make any attempt to solve it’.
Healthy Air UK also comes out strongly against removing air monitoring obligations, which it claims would ‘be nothing short of a disaster for air quality, risking the loss of hundreds of local monitoring sites across England’.
It argues that local authorities, which are currently facing spending cuts, will be forced close local monitoring sites and make local air quality officer staff redundant.
Meanwhile, campaigner Simon Birkett of Clean Air in London, who also responded to the consultation, also felt the government’s proposals were ‘unnacceptable’, adding that weakening or scrapping AQMAs would ‘drive a coach and horses through protections in the planning system’.
Mr Birkett called on the government to ‘tighten not loosen obligations to address the biggest health risk after smoking’.
More information on the consulation, which ran from July 12 2013 until September 13 2013, is available on Defra’s website.