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Ministers in spotlight at air quality hearing

Dan Rogerson and John Hayes grilled at final session of Environmental Audit Committee

Accusations that Defra has failed to communicate air quality awareness to the public were refuted by Dan Rogerson MP at a committee hearing in Westminster today (October 22).

Appearing at the Environmental Audit Committee’s final evidence session on air quality at Portcullis House, Mr Rogerson said that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had ‘not been complacent’ in reducing air pollution in the UK.

The Environmental Audit Committee held its final session in the air quality inquiry

The Environmental Audit Committee held its final session in the air quality inquiry

Mr Rogerson gave evidence alongside John Hayes, minister for roads, and Louise Barr, deputy director of the planning directorate at the Department for Communities and Local Government, on what progress has been made toward meeting EU air quality targets since 2011.

Chair of the committee Joan Walley MP opened the session by blaming Defra for the lack of public awareness on air quality – and cited conflicting deadlines between the Mayor of London’s office and the department as to when targets could be met.

Ms Walley went on to ask whether the government would be open to an independent body to help achieve air quality targets in the UK.

Speaking on behalf of Mr Hayes, Mr Rogerson said: “We have both taken the challenge to ensure we are working on this cause for government and we do not need another body to help administer that.â€?

LEZs

Caroline Lucas MP, who also sat on the committee, pressed the two ministers on whether the government intended to set up a national framework for low emission zones.

The national LEZ was proposed by Labour in August this year to help councils tackle air pollution, requiring drivers to meet specific standards on exhaust pollutants to pay a charge to travel in the zone (see airqualitynews story).

Mr Rogerson responded that the government was ‘speaking’ to local authorities about how they could help reduce air pollution in their areas, citing the work Oxford has done to introduce an LEZ for buses in January 2014 (see airqualitynews story).

And, committee member Mike Kane MP asked whether increased devolution of power to regions such as Greater Manchester could help reduce emissions in areas outside of London.

Mr Kane said: “Unless we give devolved powers to city regions, how can we compare our work to reduce emissions on what goes on in London?â€?

But Mr Rogerson responded that Mr Kane was ‘preaching to the choir’ and agreed that a lot of questions surrounding air pollution were ‘best answered locally’.

The session was the last evidence hearing in the Environment Audit Committee’s Action on Air Quality inquiry, which began in May 2014 with a call for evidence on the health impacts of air pollution. The purpose is to seek fresh information on recommendations that were outlined by the Committee in a report in 2011 (see airqualitynews story).

Closing the session, Ms Walley hinted that the committee’s report could come down hard on the government, saying that it would ‘apply the necessary pressure’ to ensure the departments fulfil their promises on air quality.

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