Government urged to do more to tackle air pollution

The chair of the Environment and Rural Affairs Committee of MPs has written to the government to demand more urgent action to tackle air pollution after a court ruling rejected the adequacy of current plans to tackle the issue. The Committee called for a debate on the air quality crisis in cities after also finding the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Transport had failed to act on the Committee's recommendations for tackling air pollution.

Committee chair 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 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."

Defra published its plans for improving air quality in cities in England at the end of 2015, but has had its proposals successfully challenged in the courts by Climate Earth as inadequate for tackling the scale of the problem. The Environment and Rural Affairs Committee report published in April called for more widespread action including more coordination of work across government, a strategy from Defra to be reported on annually and more funding support to help local authorities implement their own plans including Clean Air Zones.

"There is now recognition from Ministers that government needs to rethink its plans and up its game on air quality, and a general agreement that the Treasury should be more helpful to Defra on the amount of funding is being given to this," said the executive director for the Environmental Industries Commission, Matthew Farrow.

"We expect that in 2017 we'll be seeing a new set of proposals will come out, possibly to coincide with the March Budget. There is significant political challenge in introducing and implementing measures that could be seen to impact private motorists and 'hard working families', but government has got to get back to the drawing board and come up with a new, better plan. Climate Earth will likely have it back in court again if the measures are not good enough."