Ministers have committed to carrying out a review of the rules governing the way that air quality is monitored and recorded by local authorities, with an aim to provide greater transparency of data.
The commitment came in a response to a major joint inquiry by MPs which concluded in March, and was critical of the governments response to high levels of air pollution in towns and cities, accusing ministers of taking a box-ticking approach to the issue (see airqualitynews.com story).
In a written statement to the inquiry, published by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health, and Transport Committees today (20 June) the government said it recognised that more needs to be done to address air pollution.
In their report in March, the four Committees also set out a series of recommendations for government, which included greater public health advice to the public during episodes of high air pollution, and bringing forward new standards to limit the emission of harmful air pollutants.
MPs also recommended that air quality monitoring should be carried out at key spots in local communities such as near schools, hospitals and care homes.
The report suggested that the governments approach to air quality monitoring needs to be expanded to capture more useful local data after concerns were aired that differences in the way that local and central government assess air quality levels may provide conflicting outcomes.
Responding to the comments, the government noted that that different approaches to local and national modelling and monitoring, which have been established under different legislative regimes, can create uncertainty.
Currently through the Environment Act, local authorities are required to review and assess local air quality levels, with a focus on pollution hotspots; while the national monitoring regime which informs progress towards EU ambient air quality targets focusses on assessment of general exposure to pollutants.
Government said it will seek to address these concerns through a review of the existing regimes, to be carried out later this year.
It said: we recognise there is scope to make better use of the data from local monitoring networks, alongside the national Automatic Urban and Rural Network (AURN). We will commission projects this year which aim to deliver a solution to allow local and national data to be utilised from the same location, while providing clear guidance as to how each data source should be used.
We aim to work in collaboration with other organisations to develop a single accessible portal for accessing air quality data with the potential for making third-party datasets available through this portal in future. Bringing this data into a single location will increase transparency and open up the possibilities for use by both government and by the public and researchers.
Government has also indicated that a consultation is expected in 2018 on changes to the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) framework to streamline the reporting process.
It said: Government will consult in 2018 on policy changes to the Local Air Quality LAQM framework, shifting to greater transparency about local air quality to empower local citizens to hold local decision makers to account and provide stronger incentives for those decision makers to use the tools at their disposal to clean up local air.
Subject to consultation, we expect local authorities to start using the streamlined reporting in 2019, including making data and information readily accessible and available to local citizens.
Other commitments outlined by the government in todays response, which draws largely on existing policies set out in the NO2 and Clean Air strategies already in the public domain are pledges to deliver a single coherent framework for air quality legislation, implement a personal air quality messaging system to inform the public and provide clearer health advice and halve the number of individuals living in areas exceeding World Health Organisation limits for particulate matter by 2025.
Despite the comments, MPs from the four committees have claimed that serious concerns remain over the extent of the governments commitment to improving air quality and reducing its impact on public health.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: Whilst we appreciate the initial positive steps, we are concerned that the government is shying away from the bold action needed to tackle this crisis. Our report called on government to promote cross-departmental working, force car manufacturers to contribute to a Clean Air Fund, and commit real financial support to local authorities breaching NO2 limits. We see little evidence of this happening.
We are extremely disappointed that the Government has not taken stronger action on car manufacturers. The car industry is partly responsible for our toxic streets, and seeing the government resist calls for an industry-financed Clean Air Fund is incomprehensible.