A Manchester MP has called on government to establish a Clean Air Zone in the city, as part of any new plan to bring the UK in line with EU air pollution emission limits.
Jeff Smith, Labour MP for Withington, also challenged Prime Minister Theresa May in Parliament yesterday to do more to tackle air pollution in the UK.
The call follows a High Court order yesterday (2 November) that Defra should quash its current Air Quality Plan in favour of new measures that would achieve compliance with EU-set nitrogen dioxide NO2 limits by 2020.
Under Defra’s defunct Air Quality Plan, Manchester was not listed among the five UK cities where Clean Air Zones should be established.
This is because the department had initially predicted the Greater Manchester Urban Area would achieve the EU’s 2020 target through its own Air Quality Management Area –set up after the city exceeded air pollution concentration limits in 2013.
Greater Manchester also has its own Air Quality Action Plan, which is aligned to the National Air Quality Strategy.
However, Mr Smith argues that the government’s modelling for Manchester has been widely criticised for not accounting for any growth in population or car usage in the years to come.
Defra is understood to have considered up to 15 additional Clean Air Zones in UK towns and cities in order to meet the limits, and the High Court yesterday ruled that these might need to be considered depending on the outcome of further modelling.
Manchester city council has meanwhile already opened a Task and Finish group into air quality, which is due to meet at the end of the month.
Mr Smith said: “For successful cities like Manchester, our challenge is to ensure that air quality is not a casualty of growth. We need protections that keep the air that we breathe safe for our residents.
“I’m calling on the government to show leadership on this issue by looking again at a Clean Air Zone in Manchester and a national car scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles.â€?
He added: “I’m looking forward to working with Manchester city council on a new inquiry into air quality in Manchester, consulting with environmental experts to find effective local solutions to go alongside the necessary changes in national policy.â€?
Mr Smith also took the floor at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday to challenge Theresa May on the High Court’s verdict, asking whether the government had done enough to tackle air quality.
The PM responded: “I’ve always made clear that we recognise that there is more for the government to do. We have been doing a lot in this area we have been putting extra money into the actions that relieve the issues around air quality. But we recognise that Defra has to look at the judgements made by the courts, and we’ll look again at the proposals that we will bring forward.â€?
Elsewhere in Westminster the fallout from the High Court decision has prompted the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to take further evidence on Defra’s plans to improve air quality.
In its findings published in April, the EFRA Committee had previously criticised the government for planning Clean Air Zones in only five UK cities – Birmingham, Leeds, Derby, Southampton and Nottingham.
On the decision to reopen the inquiry, Committee chair Neil Parish MP said: “Defra said that it had already set out a comprehensive plan for reducing nitrogen dioxide levels across the UK, but the High Court latest ruling shows that its plans are inadequate.
“We will be demanding answers from the Government on how they will improve their plans to meet legal requirements at the earliest possible date.â€?