Decision to designate National Highways a relevant public authority welcomed

The government’s announcement that National Highways will be required to work more closely with local authorities to tackle air pollution has been welcomed by UK100.

National Highways will work with local authorities to improve air quality, after becoming the first designated “Relevant Public Authority”, placing a legal requirement on it to work together with councils when necessary to deliver air quality standards and objectives.

While National Highways already work with local authorities to improve air quality, this statutory requirement – consulted on earlier this year – will see a more consistent approach to meeting local air quality objectives on road networks.

In addition to this, Defra has updated Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) Policy Guidance to reflect legislative changes introduced through the Environment Act 2021 and clarify roles and responsibilities within local government.

cars parked on side of the road during daytime

Welcoming the decision to designate National Highways a relevant public authority, UK100’s Chief Executive Polly Billington said: ‘This is a move UK100 has advocated for and one which allows National Highways and local authorities to work together effectively on reducing air pollution.

‘Toxic air doesn’t recognise local authority borders, and many sources of local pollution are outside local authority control. The national road network is a major source of pollution, so it is critical to get local leaders and National Highways to work together. No one stakeholder can tackle air pollution alone.’

‘Up until now, our members have found effective engagement with National Highways difficult; they have struggled to find out information, get tangible support and secure funds for air quality action,’ she adds.

‘We hope this move is a sea change in the relationship between local leaders and National Highways. But we will keep a close eye on developments to ensure National Highways are acting on their new responsibility to work with local authorities to help deliver cleaner air for communities across the country.’

On the other measures announced, Polly added: ‘Any moves to strengthen air quality action and make our towns and cities more breathable are welcome, but they don’t go far enough.’

Earlier this summer, UK100 coordinated a letter from over 20 local leaders and metropolitan mayors pledging to meet WHO standards on PM2.5 pollution by 2030 and urging the government to do the same.

Upon signing the letter, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: ‘The passing of the new Environment Act last year should have provided the impetus Government needed to tackle some of the most pressing environmental concerns of our age. Instead, we’re being offered nothing but more dither and delay as ministers set unambitious targets that condemn yet another generation of children to the risk of developing stunted lungs, asthma and a whole host of other health issues.

‘The setting of targets should never be seen as an end in and of itself, but strategic and measurable targets can make a huge difference in working to protect our environment and our city’s residents from the consequences of pollution. That is why I urge ministers to think again about the scope of these targets and commit to doing much more to protect the next generation from the scourge of toxic air.’

Polly adds: ‘Local and regional leaders throughout the country, and across the political divide, are desperate to clean up the air in their towns and cities. But they can’t do it alone. I urge whoever takes the keys to Number 10 to listen to the plea from local authorities and give them the support they need to take decisive action.

‘As the National Audit Office’s report makes clear, the Government needs to urgently step up its action on clean air and bring forward its goal to meet WHO guidelines. At the same time, ministers need to enable local leaders to meet their air quality ambitions by providing the powers and support they need to implement regional air pollution plans that mean residents can breathe easily. Designating National Highways is a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go.’

Photo by Caspar Rae


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