Highways England has spent just half of its £75m Clean Air Fund, new research has revealed.
In 2015, Highways England was given £100m by central government to improve air quality between 2015 and 2021, with a direction that £75m must be spent before March 2020.
In November 2019, exclusive Air Quality News research revealed that with just months to go, the public body had only spent £12.8m of the fund.
However, a recent report by the watchdog, Office for Rail and Road has revealed that now the fund had expired, Highways England spent £38.9m, just 52% of the total fund.
The watchdog said: ‘The underspend on air quality reflects that Highways England was unable to identify effective solutions on which to spend the funds, despite putting significant effort.’
Highways England has assessed which of their 101 road links are potentially non-compliant with air pollution guidelines, and they expect to publish details of this next year.
However, a number of their proposed mitigation methods to reduce air pollution were paused, primarily due to the decreased levels of traffic and pollution during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Highways England has asked the Department for Transport if it can spend the remaining £21.2m in 2020-2021 to deliver some of the air quality measures that could not be delivered in the previous year.
All other Highways England funds including, cycling safety, growth and housing and innovation delivered close to, or slightly above budget.
The only fund that fell short was air quality.
Katie Nield, clean air lawyer at ClientEarth told Air Quality News: ‘For years the government has promised a plan of action to tackle illegal air pollution along Highways England roads, but a concrete, time-bound set of measures is still nowhere to be seen.
‘While Highways England have been sitting on their pot of funding and stalling on action, local authorities are begging for more money to help people and businesses move on to cleaner forms of transport as part of their local air quality plans.
‘The government must clearly state how it’s going to spend the remaining millions on urgent action to protect people’s health from toxic air.’
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