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Government issues response over air quality breaches

Defra says UK ‘one of 17 EU Members’ at risk of infraction over EU air quality laws, in response to MPs’ Committee report

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has issued a calm response to concerns over potential infraction proceedings over the UK’s failure to meet air quality targets.

This followed a call to action by the Efra committee in December, in its report into the work of the Department in 2014/15, in which it called for ‘robust policies’ to tackle potential breaches of EU air quality legislation, and minimise the risk of costly fines handed down by the European Commission.

Defra's Nobel House headquarters in London

Defra’s Nobel House headquarters in London

However, responding to the report today, Defra said the UK is among 17 of 27 EU Member States facing potential infraction from the EU Commission, adding that it will “continue to take action and to work with colleagues in other Member States to reduce pollutants and improve air quality”.

The response also acknowledges that the government has since published its Air Quality Plan, which sets out ‘targeted local, regional and national measures to ensure that UK air will be cleaner than ever before’.

It adds: “This will build on significant improvements in air quality in recent decades and fulfil the government’s environmental responsibilities, benefit the nation’s health and make the UK’s cities better places to live and work.”

The Efra Committee, which is made up of 11 MPs from all sides of the House of Commons is appointed to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of Defra and its associated bodies.

Inquiry

In its report in December the Committee called for Defra to give evidence at its ongoing inquiry into issues around air quality – a request which was met when the minister Rory Stewart spoke before the Committee last month.

The report, published on December 15, also called for ‘robust policies and adequately funded programmes’ to tackle air pollution – a request that the Department will also feel has been satisfied with the publication of its air quality plan just two days later.

The Plan includes proposals to introduce ‘Clean Air Zones’ in five cities, set out to ensure that the UK complies with the Supreme Court’s judgement in May that it must publish a new air quality plan for submission to the European Commission before the end of 2015 (see AirQualityNews.com story).

However, the environmental organisation which launched the legal action forcing the government to draw up the plan in the first place, ClientEarth, has been highly critical of the proposals, and last week threatened that unless proposals were given more weight by 10 March, further legal action could be taken (see AirQualityNews.com story).

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