Defra should revise air quality plan, urges MP committee

The government has exhibited “weak national leadership” on tackling air quality and should revise its recent air quality plan to tackle NO2 pollution, according to MPs on a Parliament select committee.

The EFRA committee report is criticises Defra's 'weak leadership' on air quality

The EFRA committee report is criticises Defra’s ‘weak leadership’ on air quality

In its ‘Air Quality’ report published today (April 27), the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee also urged the government for clean air zones in “dozens of English towns and cities” in order to tackle air pollution.

And, it called for lower fuel duty for higher polluting vehicles, as well as a diesel scrappage scheme to encourage drivers of the oldest, most polluting cars to shop in their vehicles for lower emission alternatives.

Furthermore, MPs on the committee said the government should publish an “overarching strategy for tackling all pollutants” by the end of 2016 – which should also look at indoor air pollution – and update parliament annually on progress delivering this strategy’s objectives.

Launched in October 2015 (see AirQualityNews.com story), EFRA’s inquiry was triggered by the publication of Defra’s new air quality plans for tackling nitrogen dioxide last year, which set out measures including the implementation of Clean Air Zones in five English cities by 2020.

The government is currently facing court action from environmental campaign group ClientEarth over these plans (see AirQualityNews.com story), and today’s EFRA committee report argues that many more than five Clean Air Zones are needed to tackle pollution in the UK.

Local powers

It also criticises the “absence of effective new measures” and “insufficient local powers” devolved to councils in Defra’s air quality plan, while pointing out that the plan only covers the pollutant NO2 and includes no measures focused on improving indoor air quality.

The report therefore calls for Defra to issue a revised air quality plan by July 2016, as well as producing a larger strategy which looks at tackling a wider range of pollutants from across different UK sectors.

“If full health and environmental benefits of cleaner air are to be achieved, Defra must set out plans to cut emissions of all air pollutants and from all sources, including from the transport, industry, energy and farming sectors. Plans must aim to clean up indoor as well as outdoor air” – EFRA report

It states: “If full health and environmental benefits of cleaner air are to be achieved, Defra must set out plans to cut emissions of all air pollutants and from all sources, including from the transport, industry, energy and farming sectors. Plans must aim to clean up indoor as well as outdoor air.”

Chair of the committee, Conservative MP Neil Parish, commented: “Only five cities – Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton – will have new powers to charge polluting vehicles to enter new clean air zones. Councils in the dozens of other English cities currently exceeding EU pollution limits must also be given the option of using such powers if their communities support action.

“The zones need to deliver local solutions to local problems. Defra’s proposed ‘one-size-fits-all’ clean air zones will set rigid rules on cities as diverse as Southampton and Leeds.”

He added: “Communities must be given legal powers to set controls that meet their own circumstances—for example, some might want to charge polluting vehicles to access zones at certain times of day or to target specific bus routes.”

Agriculture emissions

Elsewhere, the report urges for more spread of modern farming practices aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.

It recommends that Defra undertake a survey looking at effective measures on UK farms to reduce air pollution, as well as calling on the farming sector to “step up action” to cut methane emissions – particularly from livestock.

Mr Parish MP said: “Farmers are under huge financial pressures at the moment. They can save money and help to clean up the environment and improve health if they use the latest methods for managing manure and fertiliser and for feeding their livestock. Defra needs to target best practice support, rather than add regulation, to make sure the agricultural sector does all it can to cut pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

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