The Government has been accused of shying away from taking bold action on air quality in its response to a cross-party MP report on the issue.
The report was published this spring by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees following a year-long inquiry, and called for a range of actions, including bringing forward the 2040 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales.
It also outlined the need for a new Clean Air Act, a clean air fund financed by the transport industry, a national air quality support programme for councils and for the Government to accelerate the transition to low emission vehicles.
The report also said that improvements to air quality can only be sustained by co-ordinated cross-departmental action on policy development, legislation, taxation and spending.
In its response the Government has stated it will replace the patchwork of air quality legislation with a single coherent framework; deliver a personal air quality messaging system to inform the public; provide clearer health advice; make better use of local authority air pollution data; improve oversight on air quality spending; and halve the number of individuals living in areas exceeding World Health Organisation limits for particulate matter by 2025.
However, all four committees have expressed serious concerns over the extent of the Government’s 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.”
“The level of support available to local authorities is currently inadequate. Defra has instructed an additional 33 local authorities to tackle NO2 breaches, but so far only £1.65m has been allocated to support them. That is clearly not enough. We expect a properly resourced national support scheme and urge the Government to commit to significant funding increases as soon as possible.”
And Lilian Greenwood MP, chair of the Transport Select Committee, expressed concerns over the lack of action to reduce our reliance on cars and increase the use of public transport.
She added: “We expect the forthcoming Road To Zero strategy to make clear commitments to accelerating low-emission vehicle uptake, improving electric charging infrastructure, and getting more people walking, cycling and using public transport.”
Meanwhile environmental lawyers at ClientEarth – which has won three court cases against the government over its failure to deal with illegal levels of air pollution – said the Government has missed the point of the report and made soft commitments.
CEO James Thornton said: “The Government has skated over the hard commitments MPs asked for. Yes, the people in this country need to know more about pollution levels and the associated risks, but they also need the Government to actually do something about them.”