1 Introduction |
Fifth Report of Session 2009-10
1. The previous Environmental Audit Committee
published its report on air quality in March 2010.
The background to that inquiry was the prospect of the UK incurring
EU fines for non-compliance with air quality directives. The UK
was failing to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
and particulate matter (PM10).
The report highlighted that life-expectancy was reduced on average
by 7-8 months because of poor air quality, while in the worst
affected areas this could have been as high as 9 years. Research
suggested that between 30,000 and 50,000 people a year were dying
prematurely because of it. Air pollution was also causing significant
damage to ecosystems.
2. The Committee found that, despite these facts
being known, air quality was not seen as a priority across Government,
which as a result was failing to meet a range of domestic and
European targets. The quantified costs of poor air quality, used
to develop policy, were out-dated and did not take account of
all the known health effects, treatment costs or environmental
damage. Nor did they take account of potential multi-million pound
fines that could be imposed by the EU for failing to meet targets.
Many Government departments did not seem fully to understand how
their policies affected air quality, the impact poor air quality
had or its cost to the economy. Awareness needed to be raised
and public and political behaviour needed to change if air quality
targets were to be met. Transport caused the most exposure to
harmful air pollutants, and air quality targets would never be
met without a significant shift in transport policy. Local authorities
needed to do more to tackle poor air quality, and the Committee
concluded that they must be given the information and power to
3. Our predecessors' report recommended a set
of actions to raise the profile of air pollution, in local and
central government and with the public, and to provide for better
- Defra raising the profile of
the issue by publicising the latest data on premature deaths more
widely and making clear the benefits of improving air quality,
with Ministers driving this from the top in introducing measures
to ensure that policy decisions routinely investigate policy implications
and accepting responsibility for policies that worsen air quality.
- Transport policy changing dramatically to reduce
- The Government raising the profile of air quality
with all local authorities.
- The Government ensuring early publication of
research upon which local authorities could establish low emissions
- The Government educating the public about the
health risks from poor air quality, and about how they could limit
their exposure and improve air quality. 
The Government response
4. After the election the Government published
its response in November 2010.
Its overarching theme was a shift of responsibility for delivering
air quality improvements away from central government to local
authorities, in line with the Government's localism agenda. It
recognised that more needed to be done to tackle poor air quality.
The approach to do this would be to encourage and guide local
authorities rather than require particular actions. It promised
that local authorities would be encouraged to communicate on action
to tackle air pollution and would leave the means to local discretion
through setting transport policies and priorities locally.
5. Those transport projects which were assessed
centrally would follow an enhanced 'Green Book' methodology for
departmental investment appraisals, that better accounted for
air quality impacts.
While seeking ways to meet air quality standards in the cheapest
way, the Government would apply a 'cost-effectiveness' approach
(rather than a 'cost-benefit' approach), so that measures would
be used if they helped meet pollution limits even if they involved
a net cost.
6. In May 2010 the Government applied to extend
the compliance deadline for European PM10 targets. In March 2011,
the European Commission published a Decision accepting the UK's
application and granted an extension until June 2011 to comply
with the PM10 limits in London. The Government also submitted
a time extension notification to the European Commission for NO2
targets in September 2011.
- We undertook this inquiry to assess the extent
to which the Government had implemented the processes outlined
in its response and to assess their results. We heard evidence
from James Grugeon from the Healthy Air Campaign, Ed Dearnley
from Environmental Protection UK, Professor Frank Kelly from King's
College London and Councillor Richard Kemp from the Local Government
Group on 8 June, and from the Minister, Lord Henley, and Defra
officials on 6 July.
1 Environmental Audit Committee, Fifth Report of Session
2009-10, Air Quality, HC 229. Back
PM10 is very fine particulate matter, less than 10µm in diameter. Back
HC (2009-10) 229, para 39 Back
para 50 Back
para 56 Back
para 60 Back
para 41 Back
Defra, Government response to the Environmental Audit Committee
Report on Air Quality in the UK, Cm7966, November 2010 Back
Cm (2010-12) 7966 para 58 Back
para 59 Back
paras 23-24 Back