Air quality: A follow up report

27 February 2012

Today the Environmental Audit Committee publishes the Government Response to its Ninth Report, Air Quality: a follow up Report. The Report is published as the Committee's Seventh Special Report of Session 2010–12 HC 1820.

The Committee is also publishing today the text of a letter sent by its Chair, Joan Walley MP to Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP Secretary of State at Defra and her reply.

Letter dated 21 February 2012 from Joan Walley MP to Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP

Thank you for the response to my Committee’s follow-up report into Air Quality, which we will publish next Monday (27th February). We are pleased to see this is an issue you will be personally addressing, across Government, through the Home Affairs Cabinet Committee. It is also good to see that air quality is being considered for inclusion in the Defra business plan. Air quality has slipped down the political agenda and there has been less action because of this. I hope you will do all you can to raise its profile, both in the UK and in Europe.

We were disappointed to see Government disagree with many of our recommendations in the response. It sets out very few policy changes and describes a ‘business as usual’ approach that puts us on a trajectory to fail to meet EU targets by a large margin. It is particularly disappointing to note that Defra will not be undertaking any significant work to engage with the public about the risks to health from air pollution and action that people can take to reduce these. Such work is essential at a time when organisations such as Environmental Protection UK, that have worked so hard in the field, are struggling to secure funding.

Letter dated 23 February 2012 from Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP to Joan Walley MP

Thank you for your letter of 21 February acknowledging our response to the Environmental Audit Committee's Follow up Report on Air Quality.

I was surprised that you see our response as a "business as usual" approach. I can assure you that Government is certainly not complacent on air quality and we have made significant commitments across transport, energy and other policy areas that will help to improve air quality over many years. We have invested considerable funds in transport and energy measures that will have air quality and climate change benefits over the coming years, and we are actively investigating further measures such as low emission zones and improvement of older vehicles especially buses. The funding to London to support the Clean Air Fund and to retrofit nearly a 1,000 older buses is an example of this and we will continue to pursue these.

I strongly agree it is important to engage with the public and stakeholders on air quality. The Public Health Outcomes Framework announced in January provides an important opportunity for this and we are working with DH colleagues to embed air quality as a priority for Directors of Public Health and to promote awareness and engagement on air quality locally. Moreover as was stated in the response, Government already provides significant funding to local authorities to engage with business and the public to promote air quality in innovative ways. This approach presents a sustainable route to better understanding of air quality and of the action needed to reduce exposure. We remain keen to work with the Healthy Air Campaign and with other stakeholders on this and have invited them to put forward proposals for joint working. 

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