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Environmental Audit Committee - Minutes of EvidenceAir quality: A follow up report
Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee
on Wednesday 6 July 2011
Joan Walley (Chair)
Mr Mark Spencer
Dr Alan Whitehead
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Lord Henley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr Daniel Instone, Head of Atmosphere and Local Environment Programme, Defra, Mr Robert Vaughan, Head of National and Local Air Quality, Defra, and Dr Sarah Honour, Head of Science and Evidence Team, Defra, gave evidence.
Q57 Chair: Minister, thank you very much indeed for coming along this afternoon and for bringing your officials as well, some of whom I did have the pleasure of meeting yesterday at the launch of the campaign on air quality. I wonder if you would like to introduce your officials first of all so we know what their area of remit is, and then we will get straight into some technical questions if we may.
Lord Henley: Madam Chairman, thank you very much indeed. Just to confirm, by the way, I think it is very unlikely we are going to have any votes in the Lords so I am entirely in your hands for the next hour and a half or however much time you want to give.
Chair: That is very kind. We have the monitors and I do not think we are expecting a vote in our Chamber so-
Lord Henley: Yes, I suspect both Houses are relatively quiet.
Chair: We will keep our fingers crossed.
Lord Henley: Anyway, can I introduce on my left Daniel Instone, Head of Atmosphere and Local Environment Programme in Defra, Robert Vaughan, Head of National and Local Air Quality Management, and Dr Sarah Honour, Head of Science and Evidence Team on Air Quality. As I said, I am entirely in your hands and prepared to take questions, which I and others will answer as is appropriate.
Q58 Chair: Thank you very much. We are looking to finish about 4.00pm, so that gives you some idea of the time that we have to get through the various issues. To get a sense of the actual situation and the EU Air Quality Directive Standards, we wanted to start off with a few short, sharp, factual questions. Do you think it is reasonable to expect the UK to meet European nitrogen dioxide limit values by 2015, and how far will the measures in the current consultation get us in achieving these nitrogen dioxide targets?
Lord Henley: As I think you are aware, we are going to have severe problems on meeting the targets by 2015, and we are not alone in this, along with most of the other EU countries. I understand that Malta should be okay, but for the rest of us there are going to be problems and obviously we will want to discuss that with the Commission in due course. But we obviously want to be able to show to the Commission just what we are doing, and what we can do to head in the right direction, even if we feel we cannot get there, because obviously there are very serious risks about infraction proceedings and all that.
Q59 Chair: It is interesting you say that we are not alone, but I just wonder whether you are relying on securing a watering down of the directive proposals.
Lord Henley: We are not looking at the fact that all of us are in that position to get a watering down, but I think because of problems we will get to in probably more detailed questions later on relating to what has happened with-
Q60 Chair: I think we just want to establish at the outset how likely it is that we will meet the requirements that are there or how much we are relying, even at this stage, in going along a path that is watered down, if I can put it that way.
Lord Henley: I would not want to use the expression "watered down". We still would like to get there but I think it is very unlikely. Therefore, we need to negotiate with the Commission about where we are going, how we are going to get there and what the timescale should be, because obviously air quality is a very serious matter and we want to get it right. But as you will well know, there are always tensions in these matters. One can, thinking of discussions with, say, DECC, do enormous things that achieve our aims in climate change but at the same time those will not help in air quality or the other way round. For example, if one is going to improve the air quality by reducing the emissions from certain engines, that might mean an increasing consumption by some of those engines. There are tensions in that respect between what we call climate change aims and air quality aims. Those have to be taken into account. Obviously, there are at the same time very important behavioural changes that will achieve both of the two aims in terms of improving-if we all drove less, that would achieve both aims.
Q61 Caroline Lucas: The Government are essentially saying they are unlikely to meet these targets by 2015, and yet the Mayor of London in his air quality strategy does seem to think that we could meet that target by that time if the Government took the 11 different proposals that he makes. I wonder why there is a discrepancy between what the Mayor of London is saying and what the Government are saying.
Lord Henley: Well, London is not the whole of the UK. We have a number of areas and we are going to have serious problems meeting those. We want not just London but all other local authorities to be working towards this in ways again that we will be exploring in due course in your questions. Yes, it is going to be very difficult and I do not think we can do it.
Q62 Chair: As things stand at the moment, how much could the UK be fined if we were not to meet the standards?
Lord Henley: I do not know whether we can actually give a figure on the fine. Daniel?
Daniel Instone: We cannot put a precise figure on it. The European Court of Justice has a good deal of discretion on the matter and the exact level of fines is usually a combination of a lump sum amount plus a daily rate for the period of noncompliance. The court has discretion about how much to fine based on what they see as the seriousness of the noncompliance and the length of the noncompliance. When you put all that together, clearly any fines, if you got to that stage, could be substantial, that is very clear, but of course there is quite a bit of ground to travel before we would get to that point.
Lord Henley: Can I add the political point? We do not want to be in the position of facing the European Court and facing infraction proceedings. I think it looks bad, it is bad for the reputation of the United Kingdom and, therefore, again, going back to your suggestion of watering down, we do not want to water down but we want to make sure that what is done is appropriate. As the Commissioner put it to me when discussing it, they want to be fairly strict but strictly fair in terms of how he deals with all countries, but all countries are facing this problem.
Q63 Chair: Can I just ask what discussions you had with the Department for Communities and Local Government in respect of the Localism Bill and the implications that there might be in that for fines, should there be any, being transferred over to local authorities?
Lord Henley: The Localism Bill, as you know, is in the Lords at the moment and they have already at Committee stage discussed that aspect of the Bill. DCLG are considering those particular points and it might be they will want to come back to us-
Q64 Chair: Did they speak to you about it?
Lord Henley: We, at both official and ministerial level, have spoken to DCLG but obviously at this stage, the Bill being in the Lords, it is a matter for DCLG to come back to us as to how we meet some of the concerns. I understand the concerns of local authorities.
Q65 Chair: You accept there are concerns from local authorities?
Lord Henley: I accept there are concerns. We also accept there is a case that we want to provide an incentive to local authorities to do their bit where they can to help in these matters. Now, obviously, and this is why I want to be very careful about what I say, we want to continue to discuss-DCLG in the lead but ourselves, Transport and others-just how those particular proposals will be dealt with. Those concerns have been raised very loudly at Committee stage in the Lords. I think they went through relatively quietly in your House but-
Q66 Sheryll Murray: I want to ask about the European Court action should we not meet the targets. Because of the lengthy process any action through the European Court would take, is there not the possibility that by the time any action was taken because we did not meet our targets, we might have met them anyway?
Lord Henley: I suppose that is always possible with any judicial process.
Q67 Sheryll Murray: It does take years, doesn’t it?
Lord Henley: One has to accept that the European Court of Justice can be even slower than some of our own courts, and I speak at this stage as a lawyer who has a tiny bit of knowledge about how the courts work. Yes, they could take time.
Q68 Chair: Finally, from me, could I ask about the limit values for PM2.5 by 2020? Are these achievable, do you think?
Lord Henley: Daniel, would you like to answer?
Daniel Instone: The limit values on PM2.5 are a rather different kind from the limit values we have on PM10 and NO2 because these are not limit values in the sense that the others are. Do you want to explain it a bit further, Robert?
Robert Vaughan: There are two limit values within the standard. We have a limit value for 2015, which we are on target to meet, and there is a further limit value for 2020, which is more challenging than the 2015 one. But we are on target to meet the 2015 limit value. There is also what is called a national exposure reduction target, which is to reduce population exposure to PM2.5, and that target value has not been set yet because we have to base it on average exposure over three years and we will not be able to set that target value until 2012 when we have information for all the last three, 2009, 2010 and 2011, in terms of exposure to PM2.5. Based on that, the target would be a reduction of either 10% or 15%.
Q69 Simon Wright: I understand that the main cost of air pollution comes from the effects on people’s health. I wonder if you could tell us what your assessment is of the cost of the impact of poor air quality on health and how you have come to that assessment.
Lord Henley: Well, it has a major impact on a large number of people’s lives in that it obviously affects life expectancy in the long term in terms of poor air quality. I seem to remember being given a figure-and officials will correct me if I am wrong-that if we could suddenly clean up all the air overnight we would see life expectancy increase by, was it six months for most parts of the country but probably nine months in London? Obviously, it does have a major impact. You could also say that there are a lot of deaths that are happening earlier than would otherwise be the case, and that is again a reason why we keep in very close contact with the Department of Health and why the Department of Health take an interest in these matters. Yes, air quality is fundamentally important. Whether we can put a figure on it in financial terms is another matter. I do not know whether, Robert, you can-
Robert Vaughan: If I could add, COMEAP, the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, put a figure that estimated that air pollution had an impact of, in fact, equivalent to 29,000 deaths each year at one end of the scale or, at the other end of the scale, it might affect everyone’s life by reducing life expectancy, as the Minister says, by six months. The Committee-
Chair: Could I just come in on that if I may?
Robert Vaughan: The Committee did go on to speculate, though, to say that it was more likely that air quality had a small part to play in the deaths of a number between 29,000 and around about 200,000. It had an impact on the lives of those with cardiovascular illnesses and cardiovascular disease (ie around about 200,000 people). The costs in terms of social impact were estimated at being £16 billion a year.
Q70 Chair: I wanted to come back on what you said about the number of months that a person’s life might be affected by. Many people say to us that there might be an average figure, but in areas of highest pollution that six or eight months could be translated to something like nine years so that there is a real link to the whole health inequalities agenda on this issue.
Robert Vaughan: If it was 29,000 those deaths would have been affected by a loss of ten years, at that end of the scale. At the other end of the scale there would be an average loss of six months. Certainly, in places like London, for example, for the population as a whole the average loss is estimated at about nine months.
Q71 Simon Wright: What are the shortcomings in the ability to put a firm financial cost on the health effects? Is there more work that can be done so that we have an understanding of the financial cost to society as a whole of the impacts of air pollution?
Robert Vaughan: I think, as I said, we have a pretty good understanding of the health impacts, the health costs and, as I said, the cost of £16 billion annually has been put on-
Q72 Simon Wright: That is on the health service?
Robert Vaughan: That is not on the health service particularly, that is on the loss of life, what people are willing to pay in terms of their-
Q73 Simon Wright: Lost productivity?
Robert Vaughan: No, loss of life expectancy. If it is six months, people would be willing to pay a certain amount to get that back, so to speak, and that is how it is actually estimated. It is very difficult to estimate the actual costs of air pollution on the health services because it is reflected more in terms of cardiovascular illness or asthma or other conditions like that. It is quite a different way of estimating those costs. But the estimate on the social impact is estimated at £16 billion a year.
Q74 Simon Wright: What about the costs, then, that fall on environmental impacts that come as a result of air pollution? Is there work being done on assessing the cost to the environment?
Lord Henley: There is our recently published NEA, the National Economic Assessment, where if you remember when we published that there was some criticism of us in that we were being rather-I am trying to remember the word they used, but trying to put everything down to money in terms of valuing the view, the green space and all that. But it is quite a useful exercise to go down that route just so you get an idea about what your priorities are. I would hope that the work that we did on the NEA is also work that could be translated in a very similar way into matters relating to air quality and others. Purely putting a financial figure on something can be a crude way of doing things, but it can be a useful way of doing things in terms of showing priorities. Sarah, do you want to add-
Dr Honour: Yes. The National Ecosystem Assessment set out a framework for doing this and we have begun work already on actually applying that to air pollution. It is very much a work in progress. I think we need to build up the scientific evidence and the economic evaluation to be able to do a very thorough job, but certainly we are beginning to do that. We have also made more progress in valuing the impacts on crops as well, particularly from ozone, so it is something we are beginning to do and look to take forward in the future.
Q75 Simon Wright: Moving forward then, how would these health and environment costs be used to inform and appraise Government policy and programmes? Can you give us any examples of where the costs of air quality, of impacts of poor air quality, have actually affected a policy in some way?
Lord Henley: It is difficult at this stage to give an example of the sort you want, but I think the important thing is back to what I said earlier. Having some idea of the costs does, in albeit rather a crude way, give you some idea about what your priorities should be and does certainly help inform decisions by Ministers, Departments and others. I would hope that that is something that the Committee will take into account.
Daniel Instone: If I could just add on that, that is right and we do feed the information about the benefits, including, for example, the figure of £16 billion that was quoted plus the environmental costs that we are still calculating, into government. We have a body called the Interdepartmental Group on Costs and Benefits, which covers the costs and benefits of air pollution. We feed our latest information, which we update as we get better estimates, into that group and then that is used by the economists across Whitehall to ensure some degree of consistency of appraisal. For example, that would be used in assessing transport or other measures that are going to have a bearing on air pollution. We make sure that those numbers were fed into the formal economic assessments for those measures.
Q76 Chair: Can I just check on that point? The figure you mentioned, was it £16 billion did you say?
Daniel Instone: Billion, yes.
Q77 Chair: Yes, because we would have expected that if there was that kind of cost that is now being attached to problems associated with poor air quality that Defra would be talking to the Chancellor and the Treasury about that. If we were really serious about moving towards more green environmental taxes, that might somehow be slotted into the whole decision-making appraisal process for green fiscal policy. Has Defra had those discussions with the Treasury and how do they pan out?
Lord Henley: We have constant discussions with the Treasury about all matters and-
Chair: On that specific issue?
Lord Henley: On that specific issue, yes.
Daniel Instone: Yes, we do. The examples about how one would apply the costs that you have talked about would cover the range of Government policies. Obviously, we have to make a distinction between that figure of £16 billion, which is about, if you like, the costs of air pollution as a whole, and then the marginal benefits of a particular policy change, which would eat into those costs. What you would be then measuring would be the marginal impact, marginal benefits one would hope, of those measures. We would be aiming to calculate some numbers there and set those against the other direct costs, for example, to business, assuming there were any. We are and would be feeding those calculations in very explicitly.
Lord Henley: If I can make one other political point on green taxes, another point that we have made repeatedly to the Treasury and I would like to repeat, have it on the record, is that the ideal green tax raises no money whatsoever because it achieves what it is designed to do. I always think that we do not want to go down the route of tobacco tax where, as it were, I think the Treasury have become rather addicted to the revenue they get from that particular tax, though it was a tax designed to reduce consumption. I give as an example that is nothing to do with air quality, the landfill tax; ultimately I would like to see the landfill tax returning to the Treasury zero pounds because there was no landfill.
Chair: I think our Committee would be very interested to see what response you have had back from the Treasury in respect of the figure that has just been quoted in terms of the damage that is being done and how fiscal policies could be developed to deal with that.
Q78 Mr Spencer: The previous Committee spent a lot of time talking about air quality. I just wonder if you could identify any new policies that have come forward that could convince us that this is being taken seriously and what policies are in place that are trying to tackle the issue.
Lord Henley: Well, I honestly do think that we are making progress. A lot of this is going to be an educative process in terms of how people behave and what they do. But it is also a matter of talking to local authorities about what they can do. Is it worth them, for example, in particular local authorities setting up a low emissions zone, or would that not be effective? This is also part of the process of discussing these matters with the Commission, partly to make sure that we can assure the Commission that we are serious about getting to those targets and we want to get to them, because again, there is this very serious problem about infraction that we are facing.
Q79 Mr Spencer: Is the only specific policy to try and educate and communicate with our colleagues in other levels of Government?
Lord Henley: Do you want to add anything Robert? We could go through a number of different transport measures, for example, that we have engaged in.
Robert Vaughan: Yes. I think, obviously, it is important to see these measures, transport measures in particular, in relation to carbon as well, and carbon reduction measures. There are a large number of transport measures that have been introduced by the current Government that support both carbon reduction and air quality. In particular, there were measures for a Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which was announced earlier in the year, and there was an announcement on smaller level bids up to £5 million yesterday, where there were a large number, about 30 to 40 awards, made for projects on cycling and walking strategies, sustainable transport, sustainable bus transport and the like. Also, there was a green bus fund, which supported the green bus transport both in London and outside London. About £45 million was awarded to that to encourage purchase of newer buses, which have both reduced carbon and improved air quality at the same time by having new bus stock.
The Minister has mentioned that we are investigating low emission zones, which is an area where work is ongoing at the moment. Also, other measures include incentives for smart ticketing technology in local authorities to help in terms of bus interconnections to make more effective public transport so that more people use public transport and less use the car. There have been sustainable transport measures on cycling and walking, sustainable transport towns, and so on. There are a large number of measures on the transport side, which is the main area where air quality has an impact at a local level and plays an important role in improving the quality of air.
Q80 Mr Spencer: I notice that improving air quality is not a specific action plan within the Defra business plan. I just wondered why that was not the case, why air quality was not specifically mentioned in that business plan.
Lord Henley: It is certainly mentioned I think in the Coalition Agreement, our bible that governs all we do. I am fairly sure about that, but the Defra action plans are necessarily limited because we want to focus on certain things. It is still a very serious aim of the Department and we take this very seriously. Again, I mentioned the risk of infraction proceedings.
Mr Spencer: Can I just go on to-
Q81 Chair: Sorry, before we go on, just on that point, my understanding is that it is actually not in the business plan specifically. I would like to get it straight, is it or is it not in the business plan?
Lord Henley: I think it is not in the business plan.
Chair: It is not in the business plan.
Daniel Instone: It is not in the business plan, the reason being that it is a very explicit tieup in the Coalition commitment to specifically EU standards. It does not reflect any lack of commitment; it reflects the fact that in a sense we have that combination-
Q82 Chair: How does it get followed up in action if it is not actually in the business action plan, Lord Henley?
Lord Henley: Because we are pursuing it very vigorously, as I am making clear, in terms of the risk of infraction and other matters. We will continue to pursue it very vigorously.
Q83 Sheryll Murray: On that point, could you explain why it was not included in the business plan, then?
Lord Henley: I would have to go back and consider exactly when we drafted up the business plan. We came in 14 months ago, and quite frankly I cannot remember why it was not specifically included. It is not there but, as I said, it is still there as a commitment and it is part of the Coalition Agreement, the Coalition Agreement that binds us all.
Q84 Mr Spencer: I can understand how in the Transport Department it could be fairly well towards the fore of thinking when developing policies, but I wonder how different Government Departments interact so that when new policies are coming forward all of those Departments consider the impact of any new policy on air quality.
Lord Henley: We obviously in Defra take the lead in these matters, but obviously on matters like air quality we have to have very serious discussions with Transport, obviously, who are responsible-it is from the transport sector that an awful lot of the emissions are coming. Similarly, DECC with their interest in energy and climate change, and similarly Health because of health concerns, BIS and other Departments. We continue to talk at both an official and at ministerial level. Certainly, from my experience of Government and coming back after 13 years in opposition, I do find that Government is working much better than it did in the past. There is much less "siloisation" between Departments. If I can go back, dare I say that it is something like 20 years, to when I was a junior Minister in Social Security, there was an appalling amount of "siloisation" between Departments. That has changed. I do not know whether things have just improved in Whitehall or whether it is the result of the Coalition or whatever, but within Government as a whole from my experience I can say that things work better in that respect. I have had a very large number of discussions with colleagues in those Departments; my officials have them regularly with others. I am talking very generally now but this is also true of air quality. We, I think, are bringing things together in a way that used not to happen.
Q85 Mr Spencer: Are there specific structured meetings for those different Departments to get together? How often do they happen?
Lord Henley: I do not think one needs what you describe as specific structured meetings because that would imply setting up a formal process whereby you had to have meetings at any given stage to achieve this. What I am saying is that Government itself is working better in terms of how we reach our decisions on these matters and how we as Defra, with our lead on air quality, can make sure that we are encouraging our colleagues in Transport to think about these things very seriously, our colleagues in BIS, DECC, Health and all the others.
Q86 Mr Spencer: I am just trying to get a feel, really, for how often those meetings take place and whether-
Lord Henley: Daniel, would you like to talk about it at an official level-
Daniel Instone: Yes, shall I just talk about it at an official level? Lord Henley will no doubt want to supplement at ministerial level. At an official level, we have very regular meetings. They are typically ad hoc or many of them would be ad hoc in relation to the particular policy measure in question. For example, if the Department for Transport are about to introduce or thinking about new transport measures or thinking about how they should negotiate in the EU on vehicle standards where they might take the lead as opposed to the air quality standards where we do, we would have detailed discussions with them about the line. Similarly, say, with the Department of Health, we have been having a lot of discussion with the Department of Health about the public health agenda, including the Public Health White Paper, and about the importance of seeing air quality, among other things, very prominently identified in the Public Health Outcomes Framework. Those are just two examples where we would have some quite specific discussions on those issues and we would not want to see any measure introduced that was going to have a significant bearing on air pollution where there had not been a pretty clear and systematic discussion about the air pollution implications. Obviously, it is then a matter for Ministers to judge all the conflicting, or sometimes conflicting, issues that might arise on a particular measure. But we want to make sure, and indeed I think we do make sure, that those issues are fully aired.
Q87 Caroline Lucas: On that point-and it is very good to know that you are having discussions with other Departments-what I am lacking at the minute is any sense of an overarching cross-departmental strategy to achieve ends. Given that the context is one in which the Department and the Government is failing, as indeed the previous Government did too but failing pretty dramatically to get to grips with the quality of air in this country, I am surprised that there is not a bit more urgency and momentum around some kind of crossdepartmental strategy. I wonder if such a thing would be useful.
Lord Henley: I think, dare I say, what you are suggesting is almost setting up some formal process.
Q88 Caroline Lucas: Yes, I am. I think we need something formal, quite frankly, because what we are hearing at the moment sounds a complete-
Caroline Lucas: Void, yes.
Lord Henley: Void. Well, all I can say is I take your point, but I honestly think that we are working together pretty well as it is. Whether that would be improved by having some formal structure set up is another matter, but I am always more than happy to consider these items. What I am saying, again this is just purely from my own experience, is that across Government and particularly on this issue we are working together well and I see my other colleagues with some regularity and we are all, I hope, pushing in the same direction.
Daniel Instone: Could I just add one point?
Chair: Yes, Mr Instone.
Daniel Instone: At official level we have a Programme Board that looks across the-in fact, it looks at the air quality and noise and local environment areas, and that does meet regularly and it does bring Departments together. We do look, if you like, at the overarching issues affecting, among other things, air pollution. I do not think it is really true to say that we do not look at that at the strategic level. I think I understand what you are saying, that this all sounds a bit ad hoc. I talked, when I was talking before, about the policy-specific areas. That is very important but there are also mechanisms, and this programme board I have identified is one of them, where we do, in fact, look right across the piece and we make it quite clear that there is a shared understanding among all Government Departments about what challenges we have to meet in public health and in meeting EU limit values. It is not true to say that, if you like, there is no strategic context, interdepartmental context, in which this is put.
Chair: Simon, did you want to come in on that?
Simon Kirby: No, I am quite happy listening, Chair.
Q89 Mr Spencer: Can I just ask, Lord Henley, how you see your role, really, in pulling those different Government Departments together?
Lord Henley: I see it as one where I meet with colleagues, let us say in the Department for Transport or wherever, as regularly as is necessary and make sure that they are aware of the concerns we have, and in particular I again go back and repeat the risk of infraction and the desire to improve air quality because of its particularly serious effects on health. Therefore, it is a matter of making sure we in Defra are in the lead on this, but that we make sure that we involve our other colleagues from other Departments.
Q90 Dr Whitehead: The beginning and end of the commitment in the Coalition Agreement, as far as I can see, is as follows, "We will work towards full compliance with European air quality standards", full stop, the end. What I must say does concern me is not just the question of the extreme brevity of that commitment and the reference to it but the extent to which that reaches out in any way not just within central Government but beyond central Government, for example, as far as local authorities are concerned. Is there, for example, any intention that when the National Planning Policy Framework Guidance comes out that that will put more emphasis on air quality and will particularly guide how local authorities might across the board deal with the issue of air quality?
Lord Henley: I am sorry that you are unhappy with the brevity of the remarks in the Coalition Agreement, but as you will appreciate the Coalition Agreement was drawn up in a fairly short space of time and sometimes actually brevity might be the best way of approaching these matters. It is pretty straightforward and blunt. We will work towards that and that is exactly what we are trying to do. As regards national policy framework document, I cannot obviously at this stage make any guarantees as to what its shape will be, but again, we will be putting our oar in, if I can put it in those ways, into discussions about it.
Q91 Dr Whitehead: Do you agree with the analysis that we have heard to some considerable extent that it is largely the case that as far as local authorities are concerned the issue is, shall we say, left to Environmental Health officials who do not have the clout to place air quality on to a wider canvas as far as a local authority is concerned. They tend to be the people who get on with it once they are asked to do it. Do you have any thoughts or views on how local authorities, as I said, across the board can actually build on what happens-and I do not wish in any way to underplay the very important work that Environmental Health officials do, but how to integrate that to a wider extent within local authorities; for example, the account that may be taken of the full costs of poor air quality on local authority transport programmes and, indeed, other local authorities generally. How might that be better integrated into the whole analysis of how local authorities take their planning and projects forward so that that becomes a part of the process rather than a corner of the process?
Lord Henley: I think, and you probably accept this, you are being possibly slightly unfair on the Environmental Health officials, but I think the important thing is that we want local authorities to take these issues seriously. Certainly, from my experience of regional tours of one sort or another and local authorities I have visited-Sheffield only recently-I know that a lot of them are taking it very seriously indeed. They went and pointed out to me on my recent trip to Sheffield just what the problems were that they were facing, particularly in relation to Madam Chairman’s earlier remarks about the Localism Bill. This was quite important because obviously in Sheffield they would make the argument that quite a lot of the problems in their case in certain parts are outside their control because they have the M1 running through and those are the bits where it is quite serious. But it is still a matter that local authorities should take seriously along with, obviously, in a case like that-because I just mentioned Sheffield-the Department for Transport, which one would hope would consider its role in the matter because it is the M1 going through. But do not downplay the role of the Environmental Health officials and do not downplay the local authorities. Robert, do you want to add something?
Robert Vaughan: I just want to give examples, actually. The local Environmental Health officers work very closely with other colleagues in other parts of local government such as transport officials and also planners to develop and implement air quality improvement measures. For example, the Minister has already mentioned Sheffield but another example is Oxford, which is working towards the introduction of a low emission zone in Oxford city centre. They have worked very closely at both county and city level with officials there to actually develop the proposals, to cost them and to assess the air quality benefits of the proposals. That has been supported by Defra air quality grant funding historically, certainly. There are examples of local authorities that do work very closely within different Departments to develop policies and implement policies. We also do provide guidance on how to assess the cost impacts at a local level of air quality improvement measures and also other measures as well-so there are transport policies, too-and how those cost impacts can be assessed. That information is there. Certainly, there could be improvements and I think it often depends on the character of the local authority. We are working with them to try and identify ways of actually sharing best practice in that area so that all authorities are effectively working together to make improvements. That information is there.
Q92 Dr Whitehead: I hesitate to-sorry, I do not hesitate, I-
Chair: Find a nice way of saying.
Dr Whitehead: I want to emphasise, yes, that indeed some of my best friends are Environmental Health officers, so I do not in any way underplay what they do. In fact, what I was trying to emphasise was the opposite case, which is that a lot of these issues are put on the plate of Environmental Health officers at local authority levels and they actually have an enormous range of concerns and potential blames coming their way as far as air quality is concerned without the structures and the buyin across the rest of the local authority departments to support what they are doing. My concern there is whether there may well be structural and framework arrangements that Government may be able to put in place that actually support and underpin what they are doing and enable that to be widened out across the whole of local authority practice. I mentioned the question of planning guidance, for example, and also life-cycle analysis of projects in order to make that particular point. I wonder whether you have views as to how those structural arrangements may actually assist the implementation of what, indeed, are very solid and good commitments as far as central Government is concerned at the point where it really makes a difference at local level.
Lord Henley: Are you seeking more guidance from us to the local authorities about how they operate, how they-
Chair: I think he is asking what guidance you give and how adequate it is.
Robert Vaughan: If I might say, we are in the process of reviewing local air quality management arrangements following the report published last year under the last Government on local air quality management. We are aware that local government have asked for clearer guidance on what they can actually do, what policy levers they have available to pull. We do provide some guidance already to local government on air quality, on carrying out air quality assessments and implementing certain measures, like low emission zones or promoting low emission vehicles. That guidance is available. Obviously, it has not been taken up as strongly as it could be, so we do want to look at how we can improve that and how we can also, as you say, share best practice on life-cycle analysis. There are some councils-Camden is one-that have done some very good life-cycle analysis of low emission vehicles and vehicle fuel efficiency in local government. There are other examples as well where good work has been done and we want to make sure we can actually make that accessible and more available to other authorities so they can understand what levers they have available to pull. I think, as the Minister says, it may not be necessary to produce some new guidance, more making sure that the actual information and good practices out there are more effectively shared across local authorities. Part of the aim of our review is to ensure that happens more effectively.
Q93 Caroline Lucas: I just want to follow that up, if that is all right, from the perspective of the funding cuts. We are hearing stories about local authorities who are producing reports for Defra but have no funding or resources to tackle the problem that they identify in their reports or indeed even to monitor the situation fully in some cases. What effect are the cuts having in terms of the capacity of people at local authority level to take action in air quality management areas?
Lord Henley: The first point I must make is the one that we always have to about the deficit. It is the first duty of this Government to get the deficit under control and before we get-
Caroline Lucas: I am asking about the impact of it.
Lord Henley: No, obviously there will be an impact but that is-
Q94 Caroline Lucas: What is it? How is it being measured?
Lord Henley: That is the priority of this Government, as the Prime Minister has made clear, and without getting-
Q95 Caroline Lucas: I am not asking a question about the deficit. I am asking a question about the impact of the deficit on the ability of local authorities to act on local air quality.
Lord Henley: I still believe that local authorities will be able to perform their duties and their tasks that they have under the various statutory obligations they have in front of them. But I think it is important to always remind anyone who raises these questions that we have a duty to tackle the deficit first and foremost. It is up to the local authorities to then make sure that they can still perform their statutory functions under the various provisions.
Q96 Martin Caton: Mr Vaughan, you mentioned the local air quality management review to your Department. That in fact found that action plans, although being generated, are not for the most part resulting in improvements in air quality. Is that not true?
Robert Vaughan: Well, the action plans take a while to actually be implemented and to generate improvements. The action plans referred to were implemented or introduced and first developed earlier in the 2005-06 period, when air quality matters were first identified. But implementation of improvements takes some time to feed through. They may not be as effective as we would want them to be and we are looking at ways in which perhaps we can improve the effectiveness of those. Some areas like Sheffield, for example, and Oxford have made significant improvements, but in other areas it has been more challenging for a number of reasons, part of which is to do with the effectiveness of Euro standards and also other changes in diesel fleet, for example, which have impacted on the ability of action plans to achieve the improvements intended to be achieved. We are looking at how we can improve that.
Q97 Martin Caton: Minister, you have already indicated this afternoon that you see the stick of EU fines as a way of encouraging local authorities to contribute to improving air quality and you have acknowledged there are real concerns in councils about that. What about carrots? Are you helping councils identify those policy areas where they can make a difference in air quality?
Lord Henley: I am always far keener on carrots in any process than I am on sticks, though sometimes the threat of a stick is as useful as the stick itself. Yes, there is the stick there in the threat of infraction proceedings and, as you know, as part of the Localism Bill there is discussion as to whether the local authorities, where they are responsible for the problem, should be made liable for that. As regards carrots, yes, we will continue to encourage local authorities, but I think local authorities have their own carrot in that they are doing something for their own electorate and they are responsible to their electorate and their electorate are concerned about air quality matters. Again, I just give the example, because it is the most recent one, of my visit to Sheffield where I was taken to some of the particularly bad areas where the air quality was a serious problem. I met a number of constituents affected by air quality. They were aware of that and they will make their local authority aware of that. I do not know whether that amounts to a carrot, but I would have thought getting the support of your local population to take measures to deal with air quality should count as a carrot rather than a stick.
Q98 Martin Caton: My concern is that knowing that you have had a review, which reported last year, showing that the air quality action plan approach, which leaves it very much to local authorities, was not delivering, the Government would want to take action to make sure that delivery at that local authority level is there.
Lord Henley: As Robert made clear, it is delivering in some areas-
Robert Vaughan: That is certainly true, yes. Also, just to add, as I mentioned earlier, the Local Sustainable Transport Fund does provide £500 million in carrots to assist in implementing local transport related measures, which will benefit air quality as well as carbon. Also, we have provided ourselves a pump priming fund of £2 million air quality grant funding to local authorities, which has been going on for some time, to support local air quality measures and to support the assessment of local air quality measures. That has been used by Sheffield, Oxford, Norwich and other authorities to develop measures to improve air quality at a local level, to provide communications to businesses and to the public on what they can do to improve air quality and what they can do themselves, as well as other projects to improve air quality. There are those carrots available.
Certainly, as was said, we do want to try and make improvements to the action plan process and to improve focus on delivery. I think the report said that local authorities are very good at prognosis and diagnosing where the problems were, but they are not so effective at actually delivering improvements. That is where we want to provide more focus on those as part of the work we are doing.
Q99 Martin Caton: Will the envisaged reforms to public health in the Health and Social Care Bill help local authorities to improve air quality?
Daniel Instone: Well, just on that point-sorry, am I jumping in?
Lord Henley: No.
Daniel Instone: The public health White Paper for consultation, which was published at the end of last year, already highlighted, particularly in what it said about the public health outcomes framework, that air quality was an important public health dimension. As I think I mentioned earlier, we have been working very closely with the Department of Health on ensuring that air quality is properly registered in the further White Paper that the Secretary of State for Health is likely to be producing in the near future. Now, it is obviously still for Ministers to decide exactly what that contains, but I can assure you we have been working very strongly with Department of Health officials to make sure that air pollution is properly registered. No surprise, of course, given what we have said already and what I think is well known about the very strong health costs involved here.
Q100 Martin Caton: How will health effects from improved air quality be monitored and assessed under these reforms?
Daniel Instone: Well, they will be monitored and assessed under the public health outcomes framework. The precise details of the way in which the outcomes framework will be monitored is a matter for the Department of Health, and we will be discussing that with them. As I understand it, the White Paper is likely to talk about that so I cannot anticipate precisely what the White Paper will say about that.
Q101 Martin Caton: In your written evidence you said a set of indicators may be developed?
Daniel Instone: Yes.
Q102 Martin Caton: How do you do it if you do not have a set of indicators?
Daniel Instone: Well, that is what the public health White Paper, which I understand is likely to be published soon, will be taking forward. That I think will be coming out soon but it has not yet come out, so I cannot tell you precisely how it will be monitored since the White Paper has not yet been published.
Q103 Dr Whitehead: The Government I think in its response just a little while ago to the PM10 EU limit value deadline concluded that a mass diesel retrofitting programme for polluting vehicles would not be cost beneficial and asked for a partial exemption instead, which would provide additional time, they said, to enable planned measures to come into effect. What are the planned measures that are coming into effect?
Robert Vaughan: Well, those were planned measures that were already in place, such as Euro standards improvements and also there are quite a lot of other measures that were intended to improve the transport sector in particular. There was a range of measures that were set out in the actual PM10 application, carbon-based measures and other measures, which were intended to improve air quality historically over the last 10 years. Also, the Commission has recently accepted our further information given to them in the last few weeks for short-term measures on the time extension.
Q104 Dr Whitehead: Why is retrofitting considered not to be-
Robert Vaughan: That measure was a mass retrofitting measure and an impact assessment was carried out that showed that the costs and benefits would not be as amenable as actually seeking a time extension.
Q105 Dr Whitehead: Forgive me, but if they are not then cost-effective and measures come in over a period of time that are essentially the same sort of thing as making them cost-effective in the first place, wouldn’t it be a good idea to get on with it?
Robert Vaughan: Well, no. The retrofit measures would have brought forward the costs of those, whereas the Euro standards actually implement them over a period of years. You would have been paying the costs up front rather than paying for them over a number of years over the longer term.
Q106 Dr Whitehead: I am not sure I quite follow you. Does it become cost-effective if you pay over a period of years rather than pay up front given that the same money-
Robert Vaughan: No, the cost benefits are different.
Dr Whitehead: Sorry?
Robert Vaughan: The cost benefits will be different over a period of years as opposed to having to impose the costs immediately.
Q107 Dr Whitehead: Why would they be different?
Dr Honour: The retrofit would be you would take an existing vehicle and pay to apply a piece of technology that would reduce the emissions, whereas if you leave it over time, because of vehicle replacement, as people buy new cars and heavy duty vehicles-because of the Euro standards (we have a series of standards that improve vehicle emissions over time), as we go through and replace the fleet, the emissions from that fleet will go down over time just because we are buying newer, much cleaner vehicles. That would happen gradually over time as people replace their vehicles, which they would do anyway, whereas this would be an additional cost to pay on top to apply new technology. The other would be a cost that is taken as given anyway.
Lord Henley: Could I put it in very simple layman’s terms that I would understand? No car, no lorry lasts for ever and there is no point spending a vast amount of money, or about £5,000, on a vehicle that only has a few more years of life, when its replacement that is going to come in a few more years is going to have moved on a whole stage because each generation is getting more efficient and cleaner.
Q108 Dr Whitehead: I understand that, but is that not rather similar to saying we can resolve the question of insulation in homes by waiting for the old homes to fall down and then we will build some new ones that have a much higher level of insulation and that will sort the problem out?
Lord Henley: No, you are taking, dare I say it, rather a silly point. Homes last somewhat longer than vehicles. Vehicles do not last that long. They do not live for ever and the amount of money-this is why it is not cost-effective. If you are spending that amount of money on a vehicle that only has a few more years’ life, it would be better, rather than doing that, to wait those few years and then move on a couple of generations because each generation is getting more efficient.
Q109 Dr Whitehead: But we do not do anything-or not much-to get those polluting vehicles off the road in the meantime?
Lord Henley: They can be removed from low emission zones or whatever, depending on how you manage those. It is what is cost-effective and I think it is a fairly simple and straightforward point. I do not accept your analogy about homes, which last-I do not know what the average age of a house is, but there are some that are many hundreds of years old.
Robert Vaughan: If I might add, we have provided incentives to bring forward the benefits of, for example, Euro standards. With heavy goods vehicles we provide a reduced pollution certificate, which helps to encourage hauliers to buy newer vehicles, and that will be introduced for Euro 6 from 2012. There are those incentives there to bring forward Euro standards as well.
Q110 Dr Whitehead: I do take your point that my analogy obviously does relate to different timescales. However, what I was trying to illustrate is a process of actually deciding costbenefit analysis on the basis of essentially just letting those vehicles get on with it until such point as they disappear from the fleet by the process of age. Meanwhile we will put on processes, such as particulate traps being made mandatory for new vehicles, so that when they come on the road they will not have the same-I am not sure on what basis that costbenefit analysis then works other than it would be fairly costly to take more vehicles off the road. In the meantime, therefore, the cost of a large amount of air pollution appears to be factored out of the equation. What is essentially countenanced is that these vehicles just go around until they drop dead and then it will be okay after that. That appears to be the policy.
Lord Henley: If it is going to drop dead in a couple of years-and it depends on the vehicle obviously-is it worth spending a very large amount of money and asking the operators to spend that large amount of money for a gain that is relatively small compared to what you are going to get when that vehicle disappears?
Q111 Chair: Sorry, I think that the point the Committee is concerned with is, given the number of deaths and the extent of ill health, in the impact assessment how much cheaper is it to rely on the rising standards rather than relying perhaps on investment in retrofitting?
Daniel Instone: I think it is true that we are looking at each case separately and obviously each-
Chair: Each case?
Daniel Instone: There are different situations where there would be a balance. You are quite right to pose the question what is the balance between stimulating retrofit or allowing the fleet to replenish itself, if you like, naturally, as you were implying. At different times and based on the pollutant one is concerned about, the costs and benefits will fall out differently. Just to give an example of that, in relation to NO2 one of the things we are looking at as part of our consideration of the feasibility of low emission zones more widely is just what the costs of retrofitting vehicles to achieve NO2 standards through what is known as SCR retrofitment would be compared with the health benefits and other benefits you would get from reducing air pollution. Each case is different and we are certainly not saying that there are no occasions when it makes sense to retrofit. We already have particulate traps used quite widely both in this country and abroad and we are now, as I say, looking at this further in relation to NO2. We are certainly not saying at all that we should not consider retrofitting in particular cases.
Q112 Chair: I know we have two quick questions in on transport, but I just want to get Sheryll Murray in first because she has to leave.
Sheryll Murray: Excellent. I just want to turn to local emission zones, which seem to have worked quite well in Holland and Germany. Why has the national scheme for the low emission zones not been introduced?
Lord Henley: We would like to see a lot of local authorities considering whether they are appropriate for themselves. Whether that should be a national scheme is another matter, but I think you are probably right in saying that we want to make sure as others appear that there are national standards, if I could put it that way, because obviously there could be problems particularly for the hauliers and others.
Q113 Sheryll Murray: Have you looked at the costs and risks in establishing them?
Robert Vaughan: We have. In the recent consultation we have published, we did do some investigation on the impacts hypothetical low emission zones might have in towns and cities to take us closer to achieving compliance. That work has been done. We have also done an impact analysis that we published of the costs and benefits of low emission zones-16 low emission zones introduced in various urban areas across the country-so that work has been done to assess those impacts. They are at a very early stage at the moment and there are some uncertainties in that. We will also be publishing shortly a technical review, an evidence gathering report to better understand the feasibility of introducing a national framework, the costs involved and also the practicalities involved in terms of administrative costs on the various departments and other agencies as well and also for local authorities as well. I have been going around in discussions with local authorities to assess their appetite for low emission zones, what the barriers are for them, what the issues are. We are investigating that. There are a number of questions to be answered before we can go any further, especially in relation to NO2, the impact and the benefits low emission zones might have. On the continent, very few, if any, of the low emission zones are there to support the reductions in NO2. They are more focused on particulate matter.
Q114 Sheryll Murray: So I take it from that answer you have been to Holland and Germany and had a look at their schemes, and you have familiarised yourself with them.
Robert Vaughan: We have not been there.
Sheryll Murray: Have you had discussions with them?
Robert Vaughan: We have had discussions, certainly, yes.
Sheryll Murray: Thank you very much.
Q115 Caroline Nokes: Given the very high impact that transport has on air quality, how would you respond to any proposals brought forward to either lengthen the gap between MOT tests for cars or delay the first MOT test considering the impact that might have on emissions?
Lord Henley: We would certainly have concerns and we would want to raise those with the Department for Transport and discuss what the problems might be because obviously if one did have a two year MOT rather than a one year, one of the things they look at in the MOT is the amount of emissions. Obviously in the end, these decisions have to be made by the Department for Transport or by the Government as a whole but we would, as I think I used the expression earlier, try and put our oar in on a subject like that to make it clear that our concerns about air quality were going to be met.
Q116 Chair: Thank you. Neil, I think you wanted to come in on this.
Neil Carmichael: Not on transport but on local government.
Chair: Okay, can we just bring that in in a second? Caroline?
Q117 Caroline Lucas: I wanted to ask about public awareness because there is quite a lot of concern that many people do not understand or make the links between poor air quality and ill health, and yet there are some quite staggering facts. For example, it could be as bad in effects as things like passive smoking, which gets an awful lot more publicity, but the cardiovascular risk of exposure to traffic pollution could well be in the same field of concern as passive smoking. Given that, will the Government be launching a new public awareness campaign to advise the public on the health effects of poor air quality?
Lord Henley: I think you are right to talk about the needs of dealing with public awareness. I am very grateful for the work of-I have now completely forgotten their name- Environment Protection UK. You were at the launch of Environment Protection UK’s policy and we are very grateful for the work that they do. We will continue to encourage that and do what we can to support it. At the same time I think we have to be very careful about being over-alarmist about these things. We did mention earlier the effect it had on length of life, life expectancy and other such matters and Mr Vaughan gave the figures that COMEAP gave in terms of numbers of deaths, but one does not want to see those translated into tabloid headlines saying that all those people are being killed every year by that because that is a misunderstanding of how the figures are put out. If you want, Robert will explain them yet again because I still find it rather difficult to understand that but yes, I think all of us, this Committee, the Government, local authorities, have a duty to raise awareness about this and it is by raising awareness as you will know better than anyone that one can get things done and encourage local authorities to do their bit.
Q118 Caroline Lucas: But that being the case, rather than just saying that you will support EPUK and others, can we look forward to a real Government sponsored campaign to raise public awareness because yes, we should not be alarmist but none the less there is quite a lot to be alarmed about, not least that there are many premature deaths as a result of air pollution, that there are things that need to be done to people so they can protect themselves better from air pollution. We have lots of campaigns about people having more exercise, for example, and yet again the Air Quality Management Resource Centre says that the Government reports have identified that the health impact of air quality in the UK is almost twice that of physical inactivity. Think about the number of times the Government tell you to get out there and have some more exercise; well, why are the Government not saying something about air quality? You mentioned Environment Protection UK who were one of the leading organisations that launched the healthy air campaign yesterday. We took evidence from them a few weeks ago and they said the single most important thing the Government could do would be to sponsor a public information campaign.
Lord Henley: With the constraints on public expenditure bearing down on me, I would be very wary of promising any expensive campaign at this stage but I can assure you we will do whatever we can to increase public awareness.
Q119 Caroline Lucas: If we take the point that poor air quality is costing the state one way or another £16 billion, could we say that if the public awareness campaign was going to cost less than £16 billion it would therefore be a rather good investment and therefore the Government will do something, because I am worried. Of course the deficit is important but it is not a get-out-of-jail free card and it gets played again and again whenever something has been suggested and a campaign does not have to be expensive.
Lord Henley: Of course it is not a get-out-of-jail free card but the idea that you could spend £16 billion on a campaign of this sort or even £16 million, would it be cost effective? I do not know.
Q120 Caroline Lucas: Could you find out? Could we have an action point that there will be-
Lord Henley: As with any advertising campaign, one remembers what Lord Leverhulme said about his advertising, "I know that 50% of it works and I know 50% of it does not work. The trouble is I do not know which 50% works".
Caroline Lucas: But on that basis you would have no Government advertising. We have plenty of Government advertising on other things but would you take this seriously enough to say-
Lord Henley: We have plenty of Government advertising. We will take it, obviously, very seriously and we will consider what is appropriate.
Chair: It would be very helpful to have details of what you think might be appropriate so that we can judge it.
Q121 Caroline Lucas: Indeed, it will, because there is a degree of complacency on this subject and I think that is my take away from this session: there needs to be far more public awareness. We have had in front of us the director of EPUK, we have had Professor Frank Kelly from Kings College London, and Councillor Richard Kemp from the Local Government Group, all of them saying the single most important thing the Government could do would be to have a real public awareness campaign and, of course, it would not have to cost £16 billion, £16 million or even £16,000. There are things that the Government could do that are inexpensive to get the message across.
Lord Henley: I note what you have to say and I will take that away with me and I think it is a very important point. Once again I would say that I am very grateful that the Committee is going through this process because this is also part of raising public awareness. People do occasionally note what Committees do and say and report.
Q122 Neil Carmichael: Can I just ask a few questions about local government? I am sorry it is a bit late-you may well have answered these questions already-but what I would like to know is how you envisage local authorities co-operating with each other in terms of promoting air quality because in the Localism Bill we have obviously the presumption to co-operate. Does that extend sufficiently in the direction of air quality control? That is my first question. Then I was going to raise the question about local government’s relationships with other agencies which are responsible for air quality control. I am thinking here in particular of, for example, a situation which I have in my own constituency where we have ironically a composting factory belching out inappropriate smells and all the rest and really disturbing a lot of our village. It is being dealt with at the moment because the environment agency has acted in terms of effectively suspending the licence but what I have noticed is an interesting debate between the local authority and the environment agency about who is responsible for exactly what and I was just wondering if you could talk us through that.
Lord Henley: On the first one, yes, we are very keen that local authorities should, wherever possible, co-operate with each other. In another of the fields in my responsibility, the subject of waste, we are already seeing a great deal of local authority co-operation where they come together and pool their resources and this works very well. Another example is from waste where you get a bit of cross-boundary work which can assist the collection of waste, which is very important. I think we have some quite good examples of co-operation on air quality-Mid Devon, is it, and one or two others?
Robert Vaughan: Yes, there are several examples where local authorities work very closely together, which have already been mentioned. On the specific case you refer to, I cannot make any comments because I do not know about the details there but we do have very good arrangements for the Environment Agency and local authorities to work and to co-operate on managing emission risks from small industrial sites and larger industrial sites as well, so those arrangements are in place. I cannot make any comments on the specific site you mentioned because I do not know the details of that, but generally we have very good arrangements to ensure any disagreements or differences of view are resolved and appropriate arrangements put in place to manage the site through permitting and other legal arrangements such as that. For the Highways Agency, for example, there are legal requirements within the Environment Act for both agencies to co-operate on air quality matters, and for authorities both at county and local level to co-operate on air quality matters, so those arrangements are in place. As for how they work in particular instances, I cannot really comment on the example you give, but generally there are arrangements in place to ensure it works.
Daniel Instone: It is perhaps worth adding that in some of the major conurbations there is very close working. I have been quite struck how close it is between the different parts of the major conurbations. They do work very closely together and in some cases they are managing the issue about pollution effectively as a team covering the whole of the conurbation and not simply the individual unitary authority within that conurbation.
Q123 Chair: In terms of the changes to strategic planning and the way in which some areas do not have passenger transport executives, for example, and the move towards localism, I am not very clear-returning to the point that Dr Whitehead made early on about the national planning framework-how it is possible to really integrate that strategic planning together? Because it must happen in some areas, but it is not necessarily the case that there is a mechanism in place for that joined-up transport investment regeneration strategic planning to take place.
Lord Henley: Presumably you are not thinking of your Manchesters, your Liverpools, your big areas where there would be-
Chair: I am talking about not the big areas like Manchester and Liverpool. It is more the areas like StokeonTrent, the smaller areas.
Lord Henley: All right. As I said, it is all matters open to local authorities to work together and I could give you examples across a whole range of different fields where they are doing that and that should be encouraged where it is appropriate. But I think it should be a matter for the local authorities to do that themselves.
Q124 Chair: I am just going back to what you said earlier about the Department for Transport and the sustainable transport announcements which were made yesterday. I see in the list that we have of areas where they are not in compliance with the different standards, not every one of those was successful in their local sustainable transport bids to the Department for Transport. Do you have any input into which are the successful schemes or not based on the air quality issues?
Robert Vaughan: Air quality was considered as one of the issues. We provided information to the Department for Transport on all local authorities where there were air quality management areas or exceedance of the limit value or both, and that information was taken in to account in the assessments. The criteria for application also included air quality as one of the additional considerations for applications. All applications with air quality included in the benefits of the measure of the proposal would be more favourably treated than those without, so they were included in them. But the primary aim was of course to reduce carbon and to promote growth. That was the first tier. So air quality was on the second tier in terms of being favourably treated.
Chair: Thank you. I am just very conscious of time.
Q125 Simon Wright: Paragraph 22 of your memo to us states that trans-boundary pollution continues to be a significant influence on UK air quality. I wonder if you could tell us whether you are aware of what proportion of air pollutants that we feel the effects of in the UK come from overseas? Which states are the main sources of those pollutants and what are you doing to address this problem?
Lord Henley: Now I do have some figures on trans-boundary pollution and I wonder whether Sarah might want to give the techie answer.
Dr Honour: The degree of influence of trans-boundary air pollution depends very much on the pollutant and where you are looking. Certain pollutants, the longer lived pollutants such as ozone and secondary particulate matter, those pollutants are more strongly influenced particularly from the continent. Some of the shorter lived pollutants are less influenced and again trans-boundary is less important when you are very close to an emission source. With a lot of our NO2 issues, which are road side, the trans-boundary element is not as big because it is emissions from cars, but certainly with ozone there is a much larger trans-boundary element. Sometimes it depends on where the air mass is coming from. Quite often we get a lot of westerly winds so we are quite lucky in that way in that there is not a lot of import from there but on occasions we do get air that travels over the continent, picks up pollutants and then comes over the UK, in which case clearly if you then get stable air masses and certain conditions like sunshine it can lead to episodes like we had over the Bank Holiday weekend-high, high ozone levels.
Q126 Simon Wright: From how far across the continent?
Dr Honour: It depends. The closer it is, clearly, the bigger influence, and it depends where the air mass moves so that countries such as France, Belgium, Germany will have a bigger influence and also shipping has an influence as well, and clearly we also export some pollution to those countries as well, Scandinavia and countries like that. But with different pollutants, like ozone, it is emissions from almost the whole of the Northern Hemisphere which will have some impact on the UK because it is so long lived and also because of some of the chemistry involved. It depends very much on the pollutant itself.
Lord Henley: At a political level, I can give the assurance that we are a party to the UN convention on long range trans-boundary air pollution. We are actively engaged in the revision of what is called the Gothenburg protocol which is expected to conclude next year in 2012, which will set tighter emission ceilings for all air pollutants, including fine particulate matter, to be met by 2020. It is a key EU objective to widen ratification of that, to revise the protocol so that more countries are willing to make emissions reductions, to reduce the overall burden of the trans-boundary pollution, but we will continue with that process.
Simon Wright: Thank you very much.
Q127 Chair: Minister, thank you very much indeed and to your colleagues. I think many people feel that this is a subject which is perhaps invisible and needs to be more on the public agenda. We certainly hope that our Committee report will contribute to that so thank you very much indeed for your time this afternoon.
Lord Henley: Thank you again for inviting us along. I hope we have shown, thinking of Caroline Lucas’s point, that we are at least not complacent on this issue. Sadly air quality is one of those things that is, almost by definition, invisible. We can smell it sometimes but we do not really know what it is we are taking in, but it is something that obviously we want to raise awareness of and we want to do what we can. Thank you very much.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed.