Government urged to show ‘ambition’ in Air Quality Plan

Deputy Mayor of London Shirley Rodrigues and environmental law firm ClientEarth have called on the government to show leadership on air quality.

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Alan Andrews, clean air project leader at ClientEarth

Ms Rodrigues and Alan Andrews, clean air project leader at ClientEarth, were witnesses at an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee hearing on Air Quality in the House of Commons yesterday (13 December).

The hearing sought evidence on proposals to tackle pollution, and follows shortly after the High Court ruling against the government last month which rejected the 2015 Air Quality Plan (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Last week, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced it will consult on a revised Air Quality Plan by 24 April 2017 and publish a final plan by 31 July 2017 (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Questioned on whether he is confident that the government will deliver an ambitious plan, Mr Andrews said there have been “some moderately reassuring statements from the government” but that “we are concerned that they will continue trying to delay action.”

Among the criticisms of the quashed plan was the fact that only five UK cities were chosen to be made into Clean Air Zones by 2020 – Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton. This was criticised by the High court as taking the ‘minimum’ steps in order to comply with the EU Directive on NO2 emissions.

Future plan

The Court also ruled that the emissions modelling the government’s plan was based on was ‘too optimistic’, having not taken into account ‘emerging’ data for real-world testing of Euro 6 vehicles.

As the government will now have to remodel the impact of diesel vehicles, Mr Andrews said that draft plans for the new Air Quality Plan should include “all the technical information” so the effectiveness of the measures can be assessed.

Another point in the High Court ruling was that the government had not identified effective measures to ensure the exceedance period for NO2 be kept ‘as short as possible’. However, at the Efra hearing Mr Andrews warned against trying to fit measures into a specific timeframe, noting that this could water down their impact.

Mr Andrews said: “The important point is to put a range of measures in place that are effective, and not to fixate on a date.”

He added: “It is important that we make doing the right thing by air quality the easiest and cheapest thing.”

London

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Shirley Rodrigues. Deputy Mayor of London

Both Mr Andrews and Ms Rodrigues highlighted that “the onus is now on the government” to do the remodelling work and set out an ambitious Air Quality Plan.

Questioned as to whether the High Court decision means the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, should alter his plans to tackle air quality in the capital, Ms Rodrigues said “We can’t have a detailed strategy until we have that [remodelling] information.”

However, she pointed out that the Mayor is already “leading by example” by proposing to bring forward the introduction of an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London by 2019, as well as consulting on further measures (see AirQualityNews.com story). However, she added that air pollution is a “nationwide problem” and requires leadership from national government.

Ms Rodrigues said: “The government has in its statements asked local government to tackle air quality issues, the mayor of London has said that he will do as much as he can do if he has the powers and the funding to do that. He’s doing what he can do at the moment.”

“On local authority air quality management measures nationwide, the government has made £3million pounds available. That is clearly insufficient for the scale of the problem that we have and it is insufficient for the scale of the problem that we have in London alone.”