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Defra rejects calls for national LEZ framework

Dan Rogerson deflects calls for LEZ framework ahead of formal response to Environmental Audit Committee report this weekend

The government has rejected calls from a parliamentary committee to draw up a national framework of low emission zones (LEZs) in order to help tackle air pollution problems in the UK.

Speaking at an Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) hearing yesterday (February 24), the environment minister Dan Rogerson MP instead said it was Defra’s policy to “make it easierâ€? for local authorities to put in place their own policies best suited to tackle local air pollution, rather than to take a ‘top-down’ approach to LEZs.

Defra minister Dan Rogerson responded to questions on air quality at the EAC hearing this week

Defra minister Dan Rogerson responded to questions on air quality at the EAC hearing this week

The government confirmed today (February 25) that it will publish its formal response to the EAC’s December 2014 report on air quality this Sunday (March 1 2015).The EAC report had made a number of policy recommendations, including drawing up a national framework of LEZs to encourage their introduction by local authorities across the UK (see airqualitynews.com story).

However, EAC chair Joan Walley MP confirmed during questioning of Mr Rogerson yesterday that this policy had been rejected by Defra, and while Mr Rogerson said that he thought the Committee had “made some very good pointsâ€? in its report, he was non-committal on developing an LEZ framework in future.

Mr Rogerson highlighted Oxford, Norwich, Brighton and London as examples of the “good workâ€? on LEZs that had taken place and said that Defra was now “looking at ways it could make it easier for local authorities to respond to thisâ€?, such as providing them with “common toolsâ€?.

He said: “The opportunities are there, but I think if we could make it easier for them, then we think that would be helpful, so there is work going on with that.â€?

Pushed by EAC member Neil Carmichael MP for when the UK might see a national LEZ framework, the minister responded: “Do you dictate from the centre of what that approach should be, or do you encourage local authorities to recognise the importance of air quality and to work on that? I have been involved in talking to a range of stakeholders about the importance in local areas and how we make the case locally for making this a priority. We are now saying there is work we think we can do centrally to make it easier for them to bring in these tools locally.â€?

Mr Rogerson said later in the hearing that “we have said there are a lot of things we can do to help local authorities to bring in low emission zonesâ€? but added that “it has not been the government’s policy to drive it top downâ€?.

Appearing at the EAC hearing alongside Mr Rogerson, director for air quality at Defra, Colin Church added: “We have an air quality grant fund and we funded I think around 20 feasibility studies looking at LEZs to help them take a political decision locally as to whether they want to do it.â€?

But, Mr Church explained: “Some of the areas of exceedance are not in town centres, so LEZs would have no effect in those instances. LEZs might well work places like London for the reasons the Mayor has set out, but they wouldn’t help for all of these things.

Mr Church also reiterated the government’s commitment to revising its plans by the end of the year to achieve compliance with EU limits for nitrogen dioxide, over which the UK is currently at risk of fines from the European Commission.

He told the committee: “We have committed publically to revise the air quality plans for the UK, to improve the speed at which we will attain compliance. And that is a piece of work that is going on now, and we have said we will complete it by the end of the calendar year, and it will be publically available. Exactly what goes into that will be a decision for the next administration to take and there will be a lot of questions about exactly how we do that. But clearly local authorities will have a big role.â€?

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