London Assembly, London Councils, IAQM and CIWEM publish responses to consultation on draft UK air quality plans
Defra has been urged to overhaul its draft strategy for improving the UKâ€™s air quality as it â€œlacks ambitionâ€ according to respondents to a government consultation.
The London Assembly, London Councils and environmental professionalsâ€™ organisations IAQM and CIWEM have published responses to the governmentâ€™s consultation on updated plans to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits throughout the UK.
The consultation was launched on September 12 2015 in response to the Supreme Courtâ€™s ruling that new plans must be submitted before the end of 2015 (see AirQualityNews.com story). The consultation closed last week (November 6).
The responses vary in the strength of their criticism of the plans, but all four largely agree that more measures need to be set out by the government in its air quality plans to tackle emissions from road transport at national, rather than just local authority, level.
Measures such as introducing a scrappage scheme to encourage drivers away from older diesel cars, as well as changes to vehicle excise duty to include air pollution as well as carbon incentives, are called for in several responses, while Defra is also criticised for the lack of technical information supporting the draft plans.
The London Assembly said the draft plan â€œrequires considerable revisionâ€ as the proposals â€œlack ambition and initiative and seem unlikely to fulfil the statutory requirementsâ€.
It is estimated in the draft plan that London will reach compliance with EU nitrogen dioxide limits by 2025, but the Assembly believes the aim should be to achieve compliance around five years earlier than this in 2020.
And, the Assembly said Defraâ€™s proposals â€œfail to question the real emissions of Euro 6 diesel vehiclesâ€, despite widespread concern that many car models certified as compliant are emitting â€œseveral timesâ€ the amount of nitrogen oxides permitted on UK roads.
According to its response, London has more than 1,000km of road which exceeds the EU legal nitrogen dioxide limit, which is 43% of the entire UK total.
In addition, the draft plan is not supportive enough for local authorities, the Assembly states, and â€œunless it shows how local authorities can and why they would, implement the measures envisaged, the plan lacks credibilityâ€.
More specifically, the Assembly makes the following recommendations:
The Assemblyâ€™s consultation response was compiled by its environment committee and â€œis the view of a majority of the committeeâ€, which is chaired by Green Party AM Darren Johnson.
Commenting on Defraâ€™s draft plans, Mr Johnson said the 2025 compliance date for London was â€œtoo long to wait when we know that 9,500 people a year are dying due to the dangerously high levels of pollution in London aloneâ€.
Also publishing its response this week (November 11), the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management â€“ a professional body for environment and water professionals â€“ criticised the government for â€œlacking ambition on air qualityâ€.
According to CIWEM, Defraâ€™s draft plans to cut NO2 rely too heavily on â€œunfundedâ€ clean air zones and â€œunprovenâ€ vehicle emissions standards.
It also slams Defra for the publication of the consultation â€“ which it says was â€œburiedâ€ during the announcement of the Labour leadership election on September 12 â€“ â€œwithout the supporting technical information needed to scrutinise the draft plansâ€.
â€œWithout this evidence it is not possible to assess how the wish-list of emission reductions has been quantified and accounted for in the modelling,â€ CIWEM adds.
According to CIWEM, the many current uncertainties around vehicle emissions mean it is â€œextremely difficult to judge is the measures will be enough to achieve limit valuesâ€, while Defraâ€™s own analysis shows that if Euro emissions standards do not perform as modelled, it could results in up to 22 additional UK zones failing to comply with EU limits.
Chief executive of CIWEM, Nigel Hendley, commented: â€œIt is imperative that Defra recognise that the EU limit values for all pollutants are limits and not targets. There is no minimum concentration below which exposure to nitrogen dioxide is considered safe and every reduction in exposure will be beneficial in terms of health benefits. The final plans must go further to control air pollution, not only to achieve compliance with the Directive, but to protect human health and the environment.â€
The Institute for Air Quality Management (IAQM), which represents around 200 air quality professionals in the UK, said that
IAQM said it was â€œvery obviousâ€ that new and additional measures would be required to satisfy the European Commission and the Supreme Court, so it was therefore a â€œpuzzleâ€ that Defraâ€™s draft plans â€œappear to contain no new commitmentsâ€ beyond Clean Air Zones.
The UKâ€™s air quality problem, IAQM argues, is â€œlargely one arising from road transport emissions and from diesel engines in particularâ€, but Defraâ€™s plans do not contain enough measures for addressing this.
Itâ€™s response concluded that â€œin summary, the draft plans proposed by Defra are unpersuasive as a means of achieving compliance with NO2 limit value in the shortest time possibleâ€.
London Councils, which represents all 33 local authorities in the UK capital, also criticised the draft plan for its â€œrelianceâ€ on local government action to tackle air pollution, while containing â€œvery fewâ€ national-level proposals and policies.
The organisationâ€™s response describes Defraâ€™s plans as â€œdisappointingâ€, adding that it is â€œvital that all levels of government tackle this issue as quickly as possible to remove this substantial public health riskâ€.
It calls for the government to undertake a full review across departments for ways to drive improvements in air quality, suggesting a number of national policies, such as a car scrappage scheme, changes to fuel duty, increased low emissions vehicles funding and a call for any decision on new airport capacity to avoid negatively impacting on the UKâ€™s ability to comply with EU limit values.
Councillor Julian Bell, chair of London Councilsâ€™ transport and environment committee, said: â€œThe governmentâ€™s lack of consideration of what solutions it can contribute at a national level means that Londoners will be exposed to a further decade of poor air quality, resulting in unnecessary deaths.â€