MPs demand change over Government’s ‘box-ticking’ air quality plan

An unprecedented new report complied by four MP committees has accused the Government of viewing air quality as a "box-ticking exercise" and has called for a new Clean Air Act to be introduced.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees have today (15 March) published a joint report castigating the UK Government’s Air Quality plan – launched in 2017 – for failing to treat air pollution as a national health emergency.

The Air Quality Plan includes a ban on all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 and a £255m fund to help councils crack down on emissions. The report argues that the UK Government has failed to produce a plan that adequately addresses UK air quality levels, which breach World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended guidelines across 44 towns and cities.

The Environmental Audit Committee’s chair Mary Creagh said: “Ministers have failed to address the polluted air in our choking cities. We need a new Clean Air Act to ensure the Government remains accountable for failures to achieve air quality commitments after the UK leaves the EU. The Government must ensure that after Brexit our air quality standards are as good as or better than the level we enjoy as a result of our membership of the EU.”

Box-ticking exercise

The report claimed that air pollution is costing the UK £20bn annually, as it is linked as a contributing factor to an estimated 40,000 early deaths annually. However, Government response has been one of “box-ticking” and compliance, the report noted, rather taking “bold, affirmative” action.

The Government has been taken to court numerous times over its failure to combat toxic air pollution. Earlier this year, the High Court ruled in favour of environmental law firm ClientEarth, marking the third time the organisation had won a court case against ministers.

The report added that is was “unacceptable” that successive governments had failed to protect citizens and improve air quality across the UK.

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s chair Neil Parish added: “The Government’s latest plan does not present an effective response to the scale of the air quality catastrophe in the UK.

“We are concerned that the Government is treating air quality as a box-ticking exercise. Real change will require bold, meaningful action. We are calling on Government to develop a properly resourced support scheme available to all councils struggling with air quality, and to require manufacturers of polluting vehicles to pay their fair share by contributing to an industry-financed clean air fund.”

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie