Defra halves local authority funding to tackle air pollution crisis
The amount of money given to local authorities in England to allow them to combat rising air pollution issues has been halved, the Government has confirmed.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced the new funding regime for its air quality grant scheme, which will see £500,000 distributed across eight councils. Last year the grant stood at £1m, while the funding for the 2011-12 grant was £3m.
Leeds, Manchester and Southampton are among the eight local authorities to receive funding for 2015/16. Two London Boroughs are also among the recipients, with Ealing receiving £87,150 to develop an emissions management plan, and Islington receiving £30,000 to build electric vehicle charging points.
Commenting on the funding announcement Friends of the Earth London campaigner Jenny Bates told edie: "It is scandalous that the funds available for these crucial measures are decreasing just when more urgent action is needed to tackle this hidden killer.
“These funds will be welcome and much needed because all these areas have a serious air pollution problems requiring urgent action. Much more will need to be done so that the UK’s illegally filthy air is brought within levels set to protect health in the shortest time possible, as required by the UK Supreme Court.
“All our cities and large towns will need Clean Air Zones, not just London and the five cities the government proposes – but also traffic levels must be cut in each area, with a step-change in investment for safer walking and cycling and better & more affordable public transport.
“Under-pinning this is that the government must do much more: including reversing the current road tax incentive for diesel vehicles, and set up a scrappage scheme – and not adding to the problem with a new runway anywhere, and more road-building.”
Defra says is has given out more than £52m in funding to a variety of air quality improvement projects since the funding scheme was established in 1997.
Projects that have previously received a share of funding include a £30,000 behavioural change programme in Birmingham, a £100,000 feasibility study in Manchester, and an NO2 monitoring station in Leeds.
But, Alan Andrews, a lawyer at environmental law firm ClientEarth says the money currently on the table is "peanuts" when compared to the scale of Britain's air quality crisis and the costs it imposes on the NHS.
Andrews told edie: "Despite the Supreme Court ordering them to take immediate action, the Government is still trying to shirk responsibility by passing the problem down to local authorities while starving them of the funding they need to tackle it. [Chancellor] George Osborne needs to make a major investment in clean public transport in towns and cities throughout the UK."
These latest cuts in funding come in spite of a manifesto pledge from the government last year to “continue to do even more to tackle air pollution”.
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister David Cameron branded criticism of his Government’s lack of engagement on air quality and climate change issues “total, utter nonsense”. Cameron insisted that the UK is "overachieving" against its carbon targets and well on the road to a green economy – despite London breaching its annual pollution limits just one week into 2016.
The Government has also failed to meet its own targets for cutting the environmental impact of the state's operations – which were set in 2010 – missing out on the 25% carbon reduction target by 3%.
In July last year, it was also revealed that almost 9,500 people were killed by air pollution in London alone in 2010 (the nearest available year of data), with as many as 5,900 deaths caused by long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide pollution (NO2).
Earlier this week, Transport for London announced a new five-year plan to lower London’s freight emissions in order to improve air quality in the capital. Mayor Boris Johnson hopes the scheme will help strengthen London’s plans to become the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone.
Luke Nicholls & Matt Mace