Thank you for contacting me about air quality.
It is encouraging that air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010. Emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by 33 per cent and are at their lowest level since records began, however, there is still more to do.
I am therefore pleased that the Government has put in place a £3.8 billion plan to improve air quality and create cleaner transport. This includes nearly a £1.5 billion investment to support the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles; £1.2 billion to increase cycling and walking and make our roads safer for vulnerable users; and £880 million to help local authorities develop and implement local air quality plans and to support those impacted by these plans. This funding is in addition to a further £2.5 billion to support a number of cities improve their local transport systems through the Transforming Cities Fund.
I am also pleased that at the Budget in March, the Chancellor announced a £304 million investment in capital over next two years to combat roadside pollution, enabling local authorities to take steps to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions.
You may be aware that the Government’s Clean Air Strategy aims to cut air pollution and save lives, backed up by new primary legislation. The Strategy details how the UK will go further and faster than the EU in reducing exposure to particulate matter pollution. It sets out a goal to halve the number of people living in locations with concentrations of particulate matter above WHO guidelines and I am encouraged that it has been described by the WHO as 'an example for the rest of the world to follow'.
The Government is committed to taking action on PM 2.5, as it is the pollutant that has the most significant impact on health. Ministers are developing a clear evidence-based process for setting the fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) target introduced in the Environment Bill. This process will involve thorough analysis and independent expert advice, considering economic, social and technological factors. It will also involve detailed analysis to assess what additional action would be needed to achieve potential targets. I am pleased that both Parliament and the public will have the opportunity to provide input to the development of an ambitious and achievable target.
I am pleased that the Government launched a call for evidence to ensure the full impact that coronavirus is having on air quality can be understood for future policy development. The independent Air Quality Expert Group has now produced a report which found that there were significant changes in the emissions of air pollutants during the initial lockdown period. The full report is available here: https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/library/reports.php?report_id=1005.
The Clean Air Strategy already sets out an ambitious programme of action to reduce air pollution from a wide range of sources, including indoors, and highlights the Government’s objective to raise awareness of the potential impacts of air pollution at home. I am pleased that my Ministerial colleagues are already supporting work on indoor air quality by gathering evidence needed to inform effective policies in the future. The Air Quality Expert Group, with input from members of the Department of Health and Social Care’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, will be publishing a paper on indoor air quality this year, which will focus on fine particulate matter and volatile organic compounds as the air pollutants which are prevalent in indoor environments. I am aware that Ministers have also engaged actively with the research community through the Clean Air Programme, which is part of UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities Fund.
Clean Air Zones will deliver targeted action in air pollution hot spots to improve air quality, improve health and support economic growth in the urban environment. They will also encourage the replacement of old, polluting vehicles with modern, cleaner technologies, such as ultra-low emission vehicles.
In order to provide certainty to those affected by Clean Air Zones, Ministers will work with local authorities to delay introducing Clean Air Zones until after the COVID-19 outbreak response. I have been told that the timetable will be kept under review, but it is expected that the introduction of Clean Air Zones will be no earlier than January 2021. Local authorities are expected to continue the work to deliver Clean Air Zones as quickly as possible within current constraints, so they are ready to go live at the right moment after the present national emergency eases.
The Environment Bill builds on this Strategy and sets an ambitious, legally binding target to reduce fine particulate matter, and increase local powers to address sources of air pollution. This target will be among the most ambitious in the world and improve the quality of millions of people’s lives.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP