The government has defended its air quality policy, claiming that work to reduce air pollution across the UK â€˜is a priorityâ€™.
This followed criticism from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee that the government had showed â€˜weak national leadershipâ€™ on the issue, in a report published in April (see AirQualityNews.com story).
Outlining its response to the report this week (13 September) the government said that its ambition is for the UK to â€œhave the best natural environment anywhere and improving air quality is an essential part of thatâ€.
The response went on to add: â€œWe have made considerable progress on reducing emissions of key air pollutants. For example, between 2010 and 2014 emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) fell by 17% in the UK.â€
In response to claims that there was â€˜little evidence of a cohesive cross-governmentâ€™ plan to tackle emissions, the government claimed that there had been â€˜engagement at all levels across Whitehall, from officials to ministers, on both evidence and policyâ€™.
It added: â€œForÂ example,Â officialsÂ inÂ DefraÂ andÂ DECCÂ sitÂ onÂ theÂ OfficeÂ ofÂ LowÂ EmissionÂ VehiclesÂ programmeÂ board,Â helpingÂ incorporateÂ airÂ qualityÂ evidence and policy direction into broader policy areas.
â€œRecognisingÂ theÂ importanceÂ ofÂ effectiveÂ cross-governmentÂ workÂ onÂ AirÂ Quality,Â Defra and DfT officials have recently been brought together to form a new Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) to lead the implementation of the National Air Quality Plan. The Unit will ensure a coordinated approach across Whitehall, reporting to a board comprising representatives from the key departments.â€
The response has prompted ClientEarth, the legal firm which is due to have its case heard against the governmentâ€™s air pollution plan in the High Court in London next month, to claim that the government is in â€˜disarrayâ€™ over air pollution.
ClientEarth lawyer, Alan Andrews said: â€œThis is another sign that this Government is in complete disarray over Britainâ€™s air quality crisis.
â€œOnce again it has ignored the recommendations of a parliamentary select committee. This comes as no surprise â€“ it has already paid scant regard to the Supreme Court which in 2015 ordered it to take â€œimmediate actionâ€. A year and a half later, we are still waiting to see any signs of progress.
â€œThe Governmentâ€™s strategy seems to be to delay, do nothing and hope that this problem will go away. It wonâ€™t, and neither will ClientEarth. The longer they delay, the more people will die early or be made seriously ill from breathing harmful and illegal levels of air pollution. So on the 18th and 19th of October we will be back in court to challenge the Governmentâ€™s woefully inadequate air quality plan.â€