Changes to planning rules and independent air quality inquiry are also rejected in response to select committee report
The government has rejected calls to introduce a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme and bring in further air quality obligations within planning rules. The policy rejections, published today (March 1),Â comeÂ in Defra’s response to suggestions from the Environmental Audit Committee.
Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs),Â said it had â€œno current plans for a national diesel scrappage or engine retrofit schemeâ€. It also declined the EACâ€™s suggestion for a step-by-step rebalancing of fuel duty and vehicle excise duty in order to help cut nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter emissions.
Regarding planning rules, the department explained that additional guidance or regulations were not needed at this time â€œgiven the current level of protectionâ€, but did add that â€œwe will keep this matter under reviewâ€.
However, while Defra refused to commit to the EACâ€™s recommendation for a scrappage scheme and a national low emission zone (LEZ) framework in the short term, it has said these policies could be included as part of its review of Air Quality plans to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of 2015.
Defra said that â€œall measures are currently being investigated further to ensure an effective package of measures to tackle air pollution is developedâ€ and that â€œthe use of both individual and a national approach will form part of the reviewâ€.
Furthermore, the government’s response hints that it is considering updating the 2007 Air Quality Strategy, stating that it will â€œconsider how best to embedâ€ its current work to deliver plans to the European Commission into a new national strategy from 2016.
The response also touches on Local Air Quality Management (LAQM), with the government continuing to steer clear of a â€˜top-downâ€™ approach and instead reinforcing the responsibility that local authorities have for tackling air pollution.
However, the governmentâ€™s stance was very clear on the EACâ€™s call for an independent public inquiry into air quality, stating: â€œThe government does not support the request for an independent public inquiry to look at air pollution. We are working, and will continue to work, with all the relevant organisations to ensure a consistent approach to air pollution.â€
The EAC published its third air quality report in five years in November 2014, making a raft of recommendations for government action towards cutting UK air pollution (see airqualitynews.com story). The response to this report has now been published in the EAC website.
And, the Committee claimed the government â€œdoes agree with the thrust of many of the EACâ€™s recommendationsâ€, including the need for a 2017 introduction of the new EU engine test regime; financially supporting a range of vehicle fuel technologies tackling bus fleet pollution; getting air pollution warnings widely disseminated; encouraging active travel; and encouraging local â€˜citizen scienceâ€™ initiatives.
However, chair of the EAC, Joan Walley nevertheless voiced her strong disappointment with the governmentâ€™s response overall, stating that Coalition Ministers â€œhave once again failed to face up to the problem and instead passed the buck to the next governmentâ€.
She said: â€œWe have been warning that urgent action is needed for the last five years and while this government has accepted that there is a problem it has repeatedly failed to take the tough decisions necessary to sort it out.â€
The Labour MP, who is stepping down at the May General Election, also said a national framework to help local authorities introduce LEZs to cut traffic pollution was needed urgently.
She said: â€œThe government has been ordered by the European Court to come up with an urgent plan to save lives by reducing the air pollution on British streets to safe levels. It should commit now to introduce a network of low emission zones, like the ones that have been successfully used in other countries to limit vehicle emissions in city and town centres.â€
The EAC chair highlighted the governmentâ€™s rejection of calls for further National Planning Policy Framework guidance to protect schools, care homes and health centres from pollution hotspots, as well as its dismissal of the Committeeâ€™s recommendation for an explicit air quality remit to be placed within the new Strategic Highways Company.
She said: â€œIt remains unacceptable that a whole generation of children growing up in our polluted cities will have their health and development impaired by the illegal levels of air pollution. The Government and Local Authorities should be factoring air quality into all planning and road building decisions.â€
Campaign group ClientEarth, which is at the forefront of legal action taken against the UK over failing to meet EU air quality regulations, said the governmentâ€™s response was â€œdepressingly familiarâ€.
ClientEarth also confirmed that a date of April 16 2015 had been set for its final Supreme Court hearing against Defra after the European Court of Justice found in favour of the campaign group in November 2014.
ClientEarth lawyer, Alan Andrews, called on the government to come up with a plan to tackle diesel pollution in the UK: â€œThe governmentâ€™s response is depressingly familiar â€“ yet again they have failed to make any real commitment to tackling Britainâ€™s air quality crisis.
â€œWe need a plan to urgently clean up the deadly diesel pollution that is killing tens of thousands of people every year Â â€“ instead weâ€™ve got the same old half-baked excuses and dragging of feet.
â€œThey will have to do better than this when our case returns to the Supreme Court on 16 April, or face another embarrassing defeat.â€