The Government has been criticised over its updated strategy to tackle air pollution, as it involves calling on some councils to carry out their own plans, delaying action for at least another year.
Environment department Defra has published a supplement to the Government’s plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations after the High Court found that ministers’ existing – second – plan was inadequate.
It shows that for some road links where local authorities had identified a ‘more persistent exceedance’ of legal levels, the road links were projected to become compliant as late as 2028.
These areas and their projected dates of compliance under current plans are:
- Bolsover 2023
- Bradford 2027
- Portsmouth 2023
- Broxbourne 2028
- Newcastle-under-Lyme 2026
- Stoke-on-Trent 2022
- Leicester 2022
- Liverpool 2026
Defra said these authorities: ‘Will now carry out a more detailed study outlining in detail how they will tackle the more persistent air quality problems they have identified. These studies will be presented to government by 31 October 2019 at the latest.'
The Government supplementary plan stipulates that where measures were identified by councils - under the forthcoming new local plans - which would bring forward compliance at hotspots, the Government has issued legal directions to these authorities to require them to deliver these measures and will fund them.
‘Alongside this, the Government will work with these local authorities to put in place monitoring of air quality and traffic on the target roads, where this is not already in place. This will allow us to keep track of whether or not compliance is being achieved on the expected timetable.
‘For those local authorities that are implementing measures for which the evidence base is weaker, such as behavioural change campaigns, local authorities will also be expected to carry out an evaluation to understand the extent to which the measures have contributed to air quality improvements.’
Katie Nield, clean air lawyer at campaign group ClientEarth, which has defeated the Government three times on the issue said: ‘Today’s pitiful plan shows that the Government’s strategy to tackle air pollution by passing the buck to local authorities is in tatters. It’s essential that the Government takes action on a national scale.
‘Amazingly, ministers have now ordered more plans, which means more delays. It shows a shocking lack of leadership on a key public health issue.'
ClientEarth warned that the problem could be even worse as 12 authorities were not required to take any action to tackle air pollution after its most recent court victory because they were projected to have legal levels of air pollution by the end of 2018.
It said that given that local assessments in other areas have shown the problem to be worse than the Government thought, ‘it is possible these local authority areas may also have a hidden problem with toxic air’.
However the Government said that at a national level overall NO2 concentrations in 2017 were lower than predicted by the central projections used to inform the NO2 plan.
Defra said a further 10 authorities will now take forward new measures, developed with and funded by central government. These councils are;
- Newcastle-under Lyme
- Basingstoke and Deane
- South Gloucestershire
The supplementary plan covers 33 local authorities who were issues with Ministerial Directions earlier this year, requiring them to submit studies on the steps they can take to comply with roadside NO2 limits 'in the shortest amount of time'.
Environment minister Thérèse Coffey said: ‘Through our £3.5bn national air quality plan, we are working with local authorities across the UK and I am pleased 10 local authorities will now implement new measures to drive down pollution.
‘The roads minister, Jesse Norman, and I have written to the leaders of all the authorities that have submitted feasibility studies to thank them for their hard work and underline that Defra will continue to support them to improve air quality in their areas.'