Government responds to air quality inquiry

Responses from councils, Gatwick Airport, transport groups and campaigners have also been published by Environmental Audit Committee

Submissions of evidence from government, councils, Gatwick airport, transport groups and campaigners to a parliamentary committee inquiry into progress on tackling air pollution in the UK have been published online.

Public evidence sessions for the Environmental Audit Committee's air quality inquiry start this week

Public evidence sessions for the Environmental Audit Committee’s air quality inquiry start this week

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) launched an inquiry into UK air quality last month (see story) and the first public evidence hearing is due to start on Wednesday afternoon in London.

Appearing to give evidence at the inquiry this week will be: Mike Galey, air quality working group chair at the Environmental Industries Commission; King’s College London professor Dr Ian Mudway; Alan Andrews, environmental lawyer at Client Earth; Philip Insall, health director at cycling charity Sustrans, and; Professor Alastair Lewis, deputy director at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.


The response from the UK government — a joint submission from Defra, DECC, the Department for Transport (DfT), DCLG and the Department of Health, in consultation with Public Health England — states that air quality is one of Defra’s top four priorities.

It emphasises that Defra is the lead department for air quality policy, while ‘ownership of measures that would deliver improvements in air quality rest primarily with other Departments’.

The response outlines various government support measures for low emission vehicle; states that implementing low emission zones is a matter for local authorities; and reveals that Defra and the DfT plan to publish a booklet on low cost air quality transport measures this year.

Legal Action

And, commenting on the legal action faced by the UK from the EU over air quality, the government states that it is ‘working with the Commission to ensure compliance with the limit values in the UK in the shortest possible time’.

But, it reiterates that the Localism Act 2011 ‘provides for the possibility of passing on fines to public authorities’ — a power that think tank London Councils has said is ‘unfair, unreasonable and disproportionate’ (see story).

The government response adds: ‘As part of our commitment to transparency we have ensured local authorities are fully informed about the infraction and we are working closely with them to ensure compliance with the limit values in the air quality Directive in the shortest possible time.’

Public awareness

Regarding public awareness the government states that an air pollution event in April (see story) resulted in ‘unprecedented media coverage and raised levels of public awareness’ around issues of air quality.

At this time, the UK-air website received 195,000 visits to the site over four days, amounting to 532,000 page views compared to an average day of 1,000-2,000 visits per day. In addition, the response states, the number of followers on Defra’s twitter service doubled over this period.

Part of the reason for this increased interest, the government claims, is because it moved to ‘more accessible and longer range’ Met Office forecasts, although Defra says is looking to ‘improve the presentation and wording on its website to ensure advice in clear and more readily available’.


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