The first local authority air quality plan approved by the government is at risk of not meeting legal air quality limits, according to environmental campaigners Client Earth.
Nottingham City Council announced last week that it was the first local authority to have its air quality plan approved by Defra and the Department for Transport, as part of the government’s £3.5 billion plan to tackle harmful emissions from road transport.
Client Earth has previously taken the government to court three times over its failure to act over harmful levels of air pollution. It also made legal history in that it can take the government back to court without judicial review if it suspects the government of acting illegally.
As part of government air quality plans ordered by the court following the Client Earth legal challenge, Nottingham is one of 38 UK local authorities ordered by government to assess whether a Clean Air Zone is needed to reduce air pollution, or whether other measures could bring it to within legal limits.
Client Earth clean air lawyer Katie Nield said: “Nottingham is the first of these local authorities to have their plan accepted by the government. We are assessing the plans. While the measures Nottingham have put forward are projected to meet legal limits by 2020, uncertainties in air pollution modelling mean that there is a significant risk that illegal levels will persist beyond this date.”
When Nottingham City Council carried out analysis it found that much of the city-centre pollution came from its buses. The city has been growing its public transport system, including its bus network. This is why much of the work in its air quality plan involves retrofitting buses so they are less polluting.
Councillor Sally Longford, portfolio holder for energy and environment, said: ‘Air pollution is a significant threat to public health today, and road transport emissions are a big part of that. We're confident we can deliver our plan and go even further to improve the quality of the air in our city.’
Birmingham and Leeds councils have submitted final air quality plans to Defra and DfT, while the remainder are still developing theirs.
Nottingham's plan includes:
- £2.7m has been allocated from Defra’s clean vehicle technology fund to retrofit 171 buses with technology to reduce emissions.
- Changing the age and emissions policy for hackney carriages and supporting an increase in low emission taxis. £1m from government will be used to provide a licensing discount for drivers, a taxi rank with charging points, fund home chargers and expand the council's 'try before you buy' scheme.
- Nottingham City Council has been given £1.5m from the government to support the conversion of its own fleet, including replacing heavy, high polluting vehicles such as bin lorries with electric vehicles.