UK Government accused of treating air quality as ‘box-ticking exercise’

A joint report from four committees says the government has failed to protect the public from “poisonous air”, with 40,000 early deaths costing the UK £20 billion annually

By Priyanka Shrestha

The UK Government has been accused of treating air quality as a “box-ticking exercise” and is being urged to take “bold, meaningful action”.

A joint report following an unprecedented four-way inquiry by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care and Transport Committees slams the government for failing to protect the public from “poisonous air”.

It said that is “unacceptable” as air pollution results in an estimated 40,000 early deaths each year, costing the UK £20 billion annually.

MPs on the committees believe there is an “urgent need for national leadership and consensus building” to bring about a step change in how air pollution is tackled and has set out a number of recommendations, including introducing a Clean Air Act to improve current legislation. They add:

  • The government must develop a “properly resourced” national air quality support scheme for all local authorities struggling with air pollution.
  • The transport sector should be required to contribute to a new clean air fund, following the “polluter pays” principle, “on a scale that adequately compensates for the health costs of diesel pollution.
  • The current 2040 date by which manufacturers must end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel vehicles should be brought forward.
  • Manufacturers of private, public and commercial vehicles should also take steps to reduce emissions from tyres and braking mechanisms, known as the ‘Oslo Effect’, which is said to be a significant contributor to air pollution.
  • The launch of a national health campaign highlighting the dangers of air pollution, including the fact air quality could be “far worse inside a vehicle than on the street”.

The recommendations follow the High Court’s recent ruling on the government’s current air pollution plans as “unlawful”.

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said: “The government’s latest plan does not present an effective response to the scale of the 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.”

The government said air pollution has “improved significantly” since 2010 but it recognises there is more to do.

A spokesperson added: “We have put in place a £3.5billion plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions, will end the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040 and later this year we will publish a comprehensive clean air strategy which will set out further steps to tackle air pollution.

“We will carefully consider the joint committee’s report and respond in due course.”