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Room to breathe: will the Clean Air Strategy deliver?

Bridget Fox's picture
Clean Air Strategy 2018

The Government’s new Clean Air Strategy takes a comprehensive approach to tackling pollution. But will it give us air that’s fit to breathe?

Overall, we welcome the breadth of the strategy taking a joined-up approach to delivering better air quality, whether the pollution comes from industry, home heating or agriculture. But we need stronger targets and funding to deliver the major changes needed.  

It's good news that the strategy recognises the intrinsic value of environmental protection, stating “clean, green and healthy environments in urban and rural areas are an essential component of progress, not a barrier to economic development”. The strategy refers to enabling the health impacts of air pollution to be considered in relevant policy decisions. We’d like this to be strengthened so that planning authorities can have a pollution veto on new developments, such as road building, that would harm air quality.

While it’s light on detail, the strategy talks about potential new local powers to tackle air pollution, backed by legislation.  We’ve long called for a new Clean Air Act, enshrining the right to breathe clean air into domestic law, and giving local authorities the funding and powers to implement it. That’s more important than ever given the Brexit risk to air quality standards identified by Green Alliance.

The section on transport rightly identifies the critical role that changing how we travel must play in any strategy to improve air quality.  While we welcome the commitment to drive down emissions from every transport sector, including aviation and shipping, many of the policies are too weak to deliver in practice.  

We cannot wait another 20 years or more to get a grip on roadside pollution: the Government should seize this opportunity to bring the end date for new diesel and petrol vehicle sales forward from 2040 to at least 2030. Air pollution and transport: time to clear the air, the latest report from Campaign for Better Transport’s thought leadership programme Tracks, shows that more needs to be done to reduce emissions from all forms of road transport. 

New technology alone will not clean up vehicle pollution. The latest diesel cars continue to break pollution limits. Even with electric vehicles, there is no fix for deadly particulates from tyre and brake wear. Cutting traffic, as well as greening the fleet, must be a central plank of any effective air quality strategy.

We need stronger action with clearer targets to reduce road traffic (including travel to ports and airports) and to promote modal shift.  We would also like to see more support for modern buses in improving air quality, and a renewed commitment to rail electrification, support for rail freight, and investment in alternative rail fuels.

Projects like those delivered by the Local Sustainable Transport Fund demonstrate excellent value for money, and deliver wider environmental benefits, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving public health.

Funding is key to delivering better air quality in practice, especially with many local authorities facing severe budget cuts. In our response we’ve highlighted the potential for better use to be made of Highways England’s £110 million air quality fund in communities choked by motorway traffic. Policies like Nottingham’s highly successful Workplace Parking Levy can also help.

The Clean Air Strategy has warm words on existing commitments to cycling and public transport, but no new initiatives or money. The recent announcement of rail fare rises contrasting with the longstanding freeze of fuel duty is just one example of where Government policy is undermining clean air goals.

To live up to the Strategy’s noble ambitions, we need a wider change of direction.

Read our full response here.

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