CIEH criticises Defra's air quality plans

The CIEH has continued to criticise the Government’s revised air quality plans following its submission to Defra’s consultation at the beginning of November.   


Air pollution 

 At the end of April 2015, the UK Supreme Court ordered the Government to deliver new air quality plans by the end of the year following a five-year legal battle by the NGO ClientEarth.

The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) subsequently developed new plans which set out actions being planned or implemented in centres across the country to meet the EU limit values for nitrogen dioxide.

A public consultation on the plans closed on Friday 6 November with the CIEH, among many organisations and individuals, providing its response.

In its response, the CIEH warned that the Government is failing to address key issues such as convincing commuters to reduce driving and use alternative modes of transport, for example through cutting the price of rail travel, as well as reversing the trend in the use of diesel cars, sales of which have over recent years out-paced those of petrol cars.

Howard Price, Principal Policy Officer and author of the CIEH’s submission, said the Government is failing to take a holistic approach to NO2 breaches and is relying largely on local authorities to introduce ‘Clean Air Zones’ as a solution.

“The problem with Defra’s approach is that it is hanging its hat almost completely on the implementation of “Clean Air Zones”, which in effect just pushes responsibility on to local authorities with no mention of how this is going to be realistically implemented or funded. 

“It`s not at all clear that the European Commission is going to be satisfied with the UK Government kicking the can down the road as a sign that it is serious about its intent to address NO2 breaches as soon as possible.”

Under Defra`s proposals, still subject to the forthcoming spending review, local authorities will be `incentivised` to implement a Clean Air Zone to reduce NO2 emissions.

Controls may be imposed on just buses, taxis and coaches, or they may also include HGVs and light good vehicles. In some areas it may be necessary to exclude private diesel cars from city centres as well.

However, Defra’s plans fails to make clear where the money will come from to help local authorities fund clean air zones. Money will be needed to conduct studies around zone boundaries to assess what vehicles should be excluded, to provide monitoring infrastructures, signage and arrangements for charging non-compliant vehicles.

“Implementing a Clean Air Zone is really not an easy thing to do. You have to consider displacement effects, for example vehicles are going to be diverted into other areas potentially causing congestion and pollution hot spots elsewhere,” added Howard Price.

“This is all going to take time and expertise which will, against the trend in local government staffing, need to be funded.”

Air quality is a key interest for the CIEH as the air we breathe has a direct impact on people’s health and wellbeing.

As part of their role, Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) regularly review and assess air quality in their local areas against national and international standards, as well as work with businesses and others on how to reduce air pollution taking enforcement action where appropriate.


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