Last month, the Government released a consultation on the subject of air quality in the UK. This couldn’t have been more apt timing with our air pollution campaign getting underway but unfortunately the Government’s aims seem to be quite different to ours. Not only did they release this consultation, conveniently for them, at a time when many are on vacation, but the content consists essentially of proposals to reduce, or scrap completely the need for monitoring and reporting on air quality in relation to EU standards throughout the UK, it instead focuses upon action, though what exactly ‘action’ means is very unclear.
The Government has proposed four possible options1 for changing local air quality management and significantly none of the options call for an increase in monitoring on either a local or national level. Options 1 and 2 are vague but could remove the need to carry out further assessments – though further assessments are deemed as fundamental to development of an action plan. Options 3 and 4 would involve scrapping air quality management areas and/or all separate local air quality management duties and, in line with the harsh attitudes of the current government, they prefer option 3. Option 3 claims to want to cut red tape, but puts all responsibility for action onto local authorities, even though the Government is committed to cutting their funding whilst removing the requirements for them to monitor. This will have the obvious result that issues like air quality monitoring will slip down the priority list and no doubt become ‘economically unfeasible in the current climate.’
The consultation is vague and contradictory on how the proposals will match with the ultimate goals of increasing air quality whilst reducing monitoring. We firmly believe that it is impossible to manage a problem unless you properly measure it and therefore the proposal for increased action on a local level with removal of monitoring requirements appears counter-productive.
We responded by reiterating that air pollution is estimated to cost Birmingham’s health service £182 million per year whilst causing up to 50,000 premature deaths per year in the UK2. There are continuous references in the document to air quality monitoring putting a ‘burden’ onto local authorities and industry. It should be seen as precisely the opposite in an urban environment and in a country where a significant portion of public wealth is used to take care of public health, and where fines from the EU are also likely if air quality is not taken care of properly. Monitoring air quality ,and therefore being able to tackle it properly, will save the NHS millions and increase economic efficiency in all sorts of ways (for example, reducing congestion and producing a healthier environment for education and personal development), so these plans are just about the ultimate in short-term thinking.
1 Consultation with full options mentioned above can be found on https://consult.defra.gov.uk or Direct link: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/communications/https-consult-defra-gov-uk-laqm_review/supporting_documents/Consultation%20doc%20%20LAQM%20review.pdf
2 The House of Commons Environmental·Audit Committee·2010