A senior Department for Transport (DfT) official has admitted that it took government a long time to realise the importance of air quality as a public health issue but it is now a ‘top priority’.
Tricia Hayes, DfT director general for roads, motoring and devolution, told a recent meeting at the Local Government Association, that the Government is ‘absolutely under the cosh on air quality’ following key legal victories by ClientEarth.
High Court judge Mr Justice Garnham agreed with ClientEarth that in publishing a National Air Quality Plan last December the then Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, had failed to ensure the UK would come into compliance with the EU air quality directive ‘as soon as possible’, as required.
He gave the Government until 24 April 2017 to produce a draft plan for improving air quality and 31 July to deliver a final one.
Speaking to councillors Ms Hayes was frank in her assessment of the situation.
‘You will know that the ClientEarth judicial review has kicked off a firm timetable for government to come up with a new plan.
'This is a top priority issue for us right now. It’s affecting the way we are thinking about infrastructure, design and delivery already but I think it’s going to get even more so, when we have that formal plan in place.
‘As a public health issue the numbers for air quality are more dramatic now than the numbers for road safety. More people are dying as a consequence of air quality in the transport system than are dying as a consequence of road safety. It took us a long time to really clock that.’
Air pollution is estimated to cause around 40,000 excess deaths annually in the UK.
In Great Britain, DfT quarterly provisional estimates of reported road casualties for the year ending June 2016 suggest there were 24,620 KSI casualties, up 3% on the previous year, and 1,800 road deaths.