POLITICS

Commons Committees Join Forces To Scrutinise Government's Plans To Cut Air Pollution

MPs will decide whether Michael Gove's strategy goes far enough.

09/10/2017 11:41 BST | Updated 09/10/2017 12:22 BST
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Four select committees will join forces to scrutinise government plans to clean up toxic air across the UK.

MPs on the environment food and rural affairs, environmental audit, health, and transport committees have re-launched their joint inquiry into improving air quality after Michael Gove unveiled new plans to tackle the issue in July.

The cross-party probe will examine whether this new plan - which aims to eradicate diesel and petrol vehicles from the country’s roads by 2040 - goes far enough and fast enough to meet legal limits and deliver maximum environmental and health benefits.

Health committee chair Sarah Wollaston 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.”

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Sarah Wollastone is chair of the health select committee

Under the government’s plans, local councils will play a key role in cleaning up areas with high pollution levels in their individual areas.

But campaigners say Whitehall’s decision not to legislate for more “clean air zones” - which ban the most polluting vehicles from certain locations - and a proper diesel scrappage scheme simply “passes the buck” to council leaders.

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh, who heads the environmental audit committee, said: “The government are on their 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.”

Creagh’s Labour colleague, Lillian Greenwood, chairs the transport committee.

She 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.”

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Environment secretary Michael Gove says cleaning up the UK's air is his top priority 

The government was forced to publish its draft air quality plan by the High Court during the 2017 election campaign.  It had sought to delay its publication until after the vote.

Jenny Bates, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said the joint inquiry would provide “much-needed scrutiny” of the government’s “feeble” proposals.

“The government knows that the best way to bring down air pollution fast is to introduce clean air zones – areas in which there are charges or restrictions on the most polluting vehicles – but the air quality plan failed to require more councils to introduce them. Instead, they urged councils to look at every other measure first.

“Right now, lives are being cut short by our toxic air pollution. We need to stop dilly-dallying and focus our energy on how we can introduce the most effective measures as soon as possible, in a way which will work for local communities.”

The inquiry is inviting written submissions from interested parties, which can be submitted via the Improving air quality inquiry page by 5pm on Thursday 9 November.