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MPs demand urgent action on air quality

London from the air

MPs have demanded the government takes urgent action to improve air quality and funding for clean air zones.

The Environment Food Rural Affairs Committee has written to the government to demand more urgent action on air quality following a disappointing hearing with ministers from Defra and the Department for Transport (DfT).

The letter is being published ahead of a debate called by the committee in Westminster Hall on air quality where ministers will face questions over a lack of funding to deliver a network of clean air zones.

Chair of the committee MP Neil Parish said: “November’s High Court judgement was the second time that courts have ruled against the government’s air pollution plans. My committee’s April report on air quality demanded urgent government action to tackle the public health emergency that’s being driven by dirty diesel vehicles and heavy traffic.

“On Tuesday, we called ministers back to the committee to explain why the government has failed to act on our recommendations. We were unconvinced by what we heard. We have written to Defra and Department for Transport ministers to demand they provide better answers during today’s [15 December] Westminster Hall debate on our report.

“We repeat our call for urgent publication of a comprehensive air quality strategy containing positive measures to protect the public from the invisible threat of air pollution. We also demand leadership from the government and funding to ensure that local authorities can deliver a network of clean air zones for the dozens of cities exceeding EU pollution limits.”

In November, activist group ClientEarth won its High Court case against the government over its failure to tackle illegal air pollution across the UK.

The group said that the government had failed to take measures that would bring the UK into compliance with the law “as soon as possible”.

During a hearing into air quality on 13 December in the House of Commons, ClientEarth lawyer and head of the air quality programme Alan Andrews said that one of the group’s criticisms was that old air quality plans were the weakness of the government’s vision of clean air zones.

He said that the plans were only being mandated for five cities and none restricted access for diesel cars, despite that being one of the main sources of pollution in most zones.

“Of course, the government will now have to go back and revise all their modelling, based on realistic assumptions of emissions from diesel vehicles,” he said. “We believe that will show that far more zones will be in non-compliance in 2020. In fact, they will have to model intervening years, so we think there will be even more zones in non-compliance in 2018.”

Andrews added that the government would have to introduce mandatory clean air zones, which charged vehicles if they did not meet minimum standards for air-pollution emissions.

“We think that will make a big difference and go a long way, but we want to see a range of complementary measures aimed at reducing emissions,” he said.

The committee stated that 40,000 to 50,000 early deaths in the UK each year were attributable to poor air quality. In November 2016, the High Court ruled against the government, demanding that air pollution plans be rewritten so that the UK achieves compliance with EU nitrogen dioxide limits at the earliest date.

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