Defra minister Rory Stewart says he believes cities will have ‘some of the cleanest air in Britain’
Defra minister Rory Stewart has said he expects a notable air quality improvement in the coming years and that UK cities will have “some of the cleanest air in Britainâ€?.
Speaking at a conference in London organised by the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), the UK’s minister for air quality said that the “continual problem we are dealing with is the problem of compounds of nitrogenâ€? from the likes of non-road mobile machinery (NRMM), domestic boilers, energy facilities, buses and passenger cars.
However, commenting on his expectations for the next five or six years, Mr Stewart said that “will see an improvement in our air qualityâ€? and that he was “confident that in the majority of our citiesâ€? oxides of nitrogen per cubic metre would fall below the EU limit of 40.
He added that even cities which currently have some of the highest NO2 levels in the UK would in the near future “have some of the cleanest air in Britainâ€? and that he expected everybody to be driving an electric car by 2050.
Mr Stewart also defended the government spending on the environment, highlighting £3 billion earmarked for improving UK rivers over the next few years: “I would like to get us away from a conversation about how the government doesn’t care about the environment but about how the government is spending an eye-watering amount of money on the environment.â€?
Elsewhere, Mr Stewart was challenged on the government’s support for electric vehicle take up by ClientEarth campaigner Andrea Lee.
Mr Stewart responded: “This is a country that is really keen to back electric cars. I am confident that by 2050 everybody will be driving an electric car.â€?
He added that there was “no disagreementâ€? from the government on the points raised in a recent EIC report calling for the UK to back several low or zero emission vehicle technologies and not just electric vehicles (see AirQualityNews.com story), as Defra’s draft air quality plan is “about all of thatâ€? and is “the only way we are going to get into complianceâ€?.
But, Mr Stewart said: “A question from a public policy point of view is about how much money do we want to put into that and where do you want to put it? And how much assistance does the government provide to people retrofitting vehicles? That is exactly where we are. This is the moment at which to speak [ahead of the finalising of Defra’s air quality plans].â€?
Later, Mr Stewart also hinted at support for a formal assessment of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) fuel and called on the environmental sector to come forward with innovative technological ideas with which to “challengeâ€? Defra’s chief scientists.
“What I would really like to do is see if we can corral together 10-12 technological ideas which we could really challenge our chief scientists with… I would love to have a more detailed discussion in my office about some of these ideas,â€? he commented.
Opening the conference earlier in the day, EIC executive director Matthew Farrow had called for government to take more interest in environmental issues, commenting that environment and politics had endured a “bumpy rideâ€? together over the last five years.
Mr Farrow noted: “There is a feeling among many politicians in the government that the environment is just bad politics and just doesn’t give them votes.â€?
And, he added that Environment Secretary Liz Truss, “tends to steer clear of environmental issues and leave that to Rory Stewartâ€?, but he accepted that as it was still early days in the new government “the jury is still outâ€? on the Secretary of State.