Just days before the Government’s announcement on Heathrow expansion, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, Neil Parish, revealed that around four in 10 councils were in breach of pollution limits last year.
The Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton has called for more powers for local authorities to help tackle the issue, and under his chairmanship the Environment Committee published a report on air quality – stating it was a ‘public health emergency’.
Neil Parish MP
Transport Network caught up with Mr Parish to discuss Heathrow and the protections under British law to ensure clean air.
Do you agree with the Heathrow decision and why?
‘I support the expansion at Heathrow as the best option for our economy – both nationally and in the South West. A third runway has the potential to develop new links between London and the South West, helping to boost jobs and growth in the region.’
If the UK Government decided to opt out of EU air quality directives after Brexit, do you think the UK has sufficient laws to ensure good air quality in this country or would more primary legislation be needed?
'EU air quality directives on NO2 have already been transposed into British law in the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 . These will remain in place after we leave the EU. Moreover, any further regulations will be brought within British law through the Great Repeal Bill. There is a case for placing all air quality standards within a new Clean Air Bill, including tougher standards on Particulate Matter than currently obligated under EU law.'
Without the EU directives, what legal grounds under British law do you think there are for challenging local air quality issues including decisions like Heathrow?
'After Brexit, groups should be able to challenge the Government in British courts. There is no reason why air quality regulations after Brexit should be less stringent. Indeed, I will be holding the Government to account to ensure they are just as strong after we leave the EU and that these regulations are fully judiciable.'
Do you feel air quality issues should be a devolved matter for non-nationally significant infrastructure projects, allowing councils to tackle pollution in the best way for the local area?
'Local authorities should have a very strong role in ensuring good and legal air quality. In fact, the Government is currently consulting on the implementation of Clean Air Zones across England. I want all local authorities to have the power – and, crucially, the funding – to implement a Clean Air Zone if they wish. I look forward to the Government’s response to the consultation.'
What do you feel are the main actions that need to be taken if the UK is to get air quality back to within legal limits under current EU directives?
'The power and funding for all local authorities to implement a Clean Air Zone; a scrappage scheme for the most polluting diesel vehicles; a big push on electric cars – including tax incentives and a national charging point infrastructure; better data and monitoring of pollution hotspots for the public to assess. I welcome the Government’s new 10-year project between DfT, HMT and Defra (announced yesterday) to have a big push on air quality in the next decade.'