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MPs join forces to re-launch joint air quality inquiry into government plans

MPs join forces to re-launch joint air quality inquiry into government plans

Four House of Commons committees have teamed up to scrutinise the government’s plans to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution on public health and the environment.  

The Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health, and Transport Committees have re-launched their joint inquiry into improving air quality.  

In July 2017, after UK courts twice ruled that the government’s plans to cut air pollution were inadequate following publication of its new air quality plan. The cross-party inquiry will now examine whether the new plan goes far enough, fast enough to both meet legal limits and to deliver the maximum environmental and health benefits.

Road transport is a key contributor to air pollution. The government’s plan includes proposals for ‘clean air zones’ to limit polluting vehicles from driving in high pollution areas and an end to the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. 

Lilian Greenwood MP, chairman of the Transport Select Committee, said: “The Department for Transport needs to harness the potential of schemes such as electric vehicles, clean buses and diesel scrappage which all demonstrate that the transport sector is capable of coming up with solutions to tackle poor air quality. Real change is possible if government leads from the front to co-ordinate an effective response to one of the biggest issues of our time.”  

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chairman of the Health Committee, said: “There is an increasing amount of evidence showing the impact of nitrogen dioxide and invisible particulates on human health. Many people are aware of their impact on our lungs and hearts, but new evidence suggests that they could also contribute to diseases a disparate as dementia and diabetes.”

Local authorities played a central role in delivering plans on the ground, said the MPs, and leaders from a number of councils across England have written to ministers criticising the latest plans.

Mary Creagh MP, chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “The government is on its third attempt to meet legal air quality standards. Local authorities have said the government’s plan for air pollution does not go far enough to help the millions of people living with illegally high levels of air pollution today. Ministers will now face unprecedented scrutiny in Parliament to ensure they are doing everything necessary to protect people from filthy air.”

With several government departments having a role in managing air pollution, the inquiry will explore how effectively departments work together across Whitehall to tackle air pollution.  

Neil Parish MP, chairman of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: “When the leaders of Liverpool, Leeds, Southampton, Oxford, Leicester and Birmingham say that the government’s plans to reduce pollution will not allow them to meet legal pollution limits, it is a cause for concern. Our joint inquiry allows MPs to hold to account ministers from key departments on how effectively the government is joining up work to clean up the UK’s air.” 

The Committee has asked for written submissions on the following key questions by 5pm on Thursday, 9 November:          
  • How effectively do government policies take into account the health and environmental impacts of poor air quality?         
  • Do those plans set out effective and proportionate measures to achieve necessary emissions reductions as quickly as possible?         
  • Are other nations or cities taking more effective action that the UK can learn from?          
  • Is there enough cross-government collaboration to set in place the right fiscal and policy incentives?        
  • How can those charged with delivering national plans at local level be best supported and challenged?