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UK-wide consultation on air quality launched

Words: Laura Edgar
UK air pollution / Shutterstock: 573652828

A consultation on the UK’s Air Quality Plan has been launched, with clean air zones at the forefront of the proposals.

The consultation document sets out steps the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland propose to take to improve air quality in towns and cities.

It notes that the number of diesel vehicles has increased since the early 2000s, when tax incentives were introduced, and that action must be taken to clean up the existing fleet of vehicles.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is concentrated in particular areas, with the most dominant source of it at the roadside being from diesel vehicles. Action will be focused on problem areas – specific roads in towns and cities.

Local authorities already have the power to implement clean air zones but now, the consultation states they will be at the “forefront of innovation”. The steps set out in the consultation “rely on the development of comprehensive clean air zone plans by local authorities in English town and city where action is needed”.

Local authorities, according to the consultation document, will be given clear legal duties to develop and implement these plans in a way that works for their area, including responding to residents’ views. The government said it would support efforts by setting a framework for local action and monitoring progress.

Plans should bring pollution levels “within the legal limits within the shortest time possible”.

The government has already published a framework for clean air zone plans, which could include encouraging use of public transport, cycling and walking, as well as charging certain types of vehicle to enter or move within a zone.

However, the government does say charging zones are not a requirement but should only be used when a local authority fails to identify equally effective alternatives.

The document also states that additional local measures could be taken forward through a central government fund to invest in local infrastructure and help change behaviour to improve air quality, while support could be provided for retrofitting initiatives.

Local authorities that have roads that persistently exceed legal limits of NO2 include the Greater London Authority, Bournemouth Borough Council, Leicester City Council, Birmingham City Council and South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council.

National measures

The UK Government supports the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) across the UK and said it is committed to investing more than £600 million between 2015-20, plus £270 million allocated in the Autumn Statement, to ULEV development, manufacture and use.

The UK Government said it would continue to press for innovative solutions to help reduce emission from diesel vehicles, while it is also conducting a review of vehicle labelling supported by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership.

Additional actions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

  • Plans for delivering the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government proposal to establish the country’s first low emission zone by 2018 will continue alongside the development of its National Low Emission Framework.
  • Within the next 12 months, the Welsh Government will consult on the details for a proposal for a Clean Air Zone Framework for Wales.
  • The Northern Ireland Executive will revise the country’s air quality policy and legislation as well as devise an Air Quality Action Plan.

Campaigning group Friends of the Earth has said that the plans appear to “push responsibility to deliver clean air to local councils without offering adequate resources”.

Oliver Hayes, air pollution campaigner, said the plan is “woefully inadequate, with a breathtaking lack of detail”.

“The most effective way to protect people from toxic fumes would be to have robust clean air zones everywhere where there is illegal levels of pollution.

“Tasking local authorities to implement these zones only after exploring a range of other measures is spectacularly wrong-headed.”

The consultation states that the UK Air Quality Plan will be finalised by 31 July 2017. The consultation closes on 15 June. It can be found here (pdf).

Image credit | Shuttershock