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National LEZ framework needed, committee told

Environmental Audit Committee hears that government should lead on implementing LEZs and retrofitting vehicle fleets across UK

Calls to retrofit vehicle fleets to meet Euro 5 exhaust standards and implement a national network of low emission zones (LEZs) were made at a parliamentary committee inquiry hearing into UK air quality yesterday (June 25).

These were among several measures to improve the UK’s air quality that were suggested by the five figures at the evidence session, which took place in London as part of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) inquiry launched last month (see airqualitynews.com story).

The EAC heard evidence from (L-R) Alan Andrews, Prof. Alastair Lewis, Philip Insall, Dr Ian Mudway and Mike Galey

The EAC heard evidence from (L-R) Alan Andrews, Prof. Alastair Lewis, Philip Insall, Dr Ian Mudway and Mike Galey

Appearing at the hearing, air quality working group chair at the Environmental Industries Commission, Mike Galey, led the calls for retrofitting of Euro 3 standard vehicles as one of the quickest and most effective measures to tackle air pollution.

He said this would cost around £10,000 per vehicle, although he added that the ‘payback’ of this money in human health terms is around two years.

Mr Galey said: “If I get only one plea heard today, can it be that we deal with urban buses? It would make an enormous difference.â€?

And, retrofitted Euro 3 vehicles are more effective at reducing nitrogen dioxide emissions than Euro 5 vehicles, he said – a claim previously made by the likes of exhaust technology firm Eminox (see airqualitynews.com story) but which appeared to surprised the EAC panel and its chair Joan Walley MP.

The MP said to Mr Galey: “Are you saying that Euro 5 is actually worse than retrofitted Euro 3?â€?

Also highlighted by Mr Galey was the need to curb emissions from construction and he stated that the UK had “missed a golden opportunityâ€? by not fitting emissions filters at London 2012 Olympics construction sites.

Low emission zones

The issue of low emission zones also came under scrutiny at the hearing, with those giving evidence calling for a nationally-coordinated framework of zones across the UK.

While Germany has around 70 LEZs, there are currently only three such zones of different sizes in the UK – in London, Oxford and Norwich – although there are plans for an LEZ in Brighton next year and an ultra-low emission zone in London by 2020.

A national network, it was suggested, would both help tackle emissions and mean that vehicle standards would be consistent across the country, thereby forcing fleet operators to retrofit all their vehicles instead of reorganising them so that non-retrofitted vehicles only travel in areas not regulated by LEZs.

Speaking at the session, ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said the current LEZ in London was ineffective “because of the huge classes of vehicles that don’t come under the scope of the LEZâ€?.

He added that while the planned ULEZ was an “eye-catching policyâ€?, it did not go far enough and covered too small an area that vehicles could “just drive aroundâ€?.

Mr Andrews said: “What we need is a national network of LEZs that sets the relevant standard, which establishes a certification scheme for the retrofit equipment and ensures we have a coherent network of low emission zones.â€?

The EAC hearing took place in Portcullis House, London on June 25 2014

The EAC hearing took place in Portcullis House, London, on June 25 2014

He said that the problem at the moment was that motorists can have a vehicle that can drive in some parts of the UK, but not in others, which just “moves the problem around the countryâ€?.

Mr Andrews said: “What we need is central government taking a lead here and giving local authorities the tools that they need to implement low emission zones.â€?

Leadership

Part of the problem of tackling air pollution in the UK, speakers suggested, was the lack of leadership from central government on air quality.

This point was backed up by all speakers – including King’s College London professor Dr Ian Mudway and Professor Alastair Lewis, deputy director at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

Mr Andrews said that it was important to “make sure policy is led by science and not politics,â€? but that there was “a lack of political willâ€? to implement stricter air quality measures or support EU policies.

And, he said: “Defra do not have the resources to coordinate the messages across government.â€?

Mr Galey added: “Defra have the will but not the resources. DfT have the resources but not so much will.â€?

Awareness

Elsewhere, Dr Ian Mudway said that public awareness was key to limiting exposure and also gaining public support for air pollution measures.

He praised the recent inclusion of air pollution data in Met Office weather forecasting which had helped create a “sea changeâ€? in public awareness, but he suggested the public needed the seriousness of the issue getting across more strongly.

Dr Mudway said: “The public haven’t been getting the information they need. It has been done in a rather sporadic fashion.â€?

Also giving evidence at the hearing were Philip Insall, health director at cycling charity Sustrans, and Professor Alastair Lewis, deputy director at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

Earlier this month, London Mayor Boris Johnson relented on previous refusals and agreed to appear in front of the EAC to give evidence as part of the inquiry in September (see airqualitynews.com story).

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