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The Government's draft Air Quality Plan is not fit for purpose

Former campaigner's picture

The Government’s UK Air Quality plan was finally published this month. The Plan may have been eagerly awaited but its contents are a real disappointment.

As it stands, it’s hard to see how the plan will deliver the legal requirement to tackle the problem of air pollution as quickly as possible.  

Charging zones are the best route to cleaner air

Clean Air Zones that charge polluting vehicles to enter are the most effective way to tackle air pollution. But this plan makes charging schemes a last resort, and there are no extra resources for local councils to deliver them.  

Councils need the powers and resources to deliver

Local councils are already struggling to deliver core services such as road maintenance and modern bus services: it is unreasonable to expect them to investigate and implement “innovative proposals” for tackling air quality without extra funding or revenue raising powers.

We need fewer cars not just newer cars

Businesses, their staff, suppliers and customers, are all part of the community and have the same rights to breathe clean air and the shared responsibility to play their part in delivering clean air. Local authorities can assist by investing in good quality public transport options for employees and customers, and by supporting smarter last mile delivery solutions for freight.

In particular, Councils should be encouraged to prioritise measures to reduce single occupancy car commuting to work, which is a huge contributor to traffic and hence to poor air quality.

These measures are the most effective way to deliver air that meets legal health standards: they can also benefit business by connecting more people to jobs, and revitalising retail high streets and local traders by increasing footfall. 

Any scrappage scheme must promote alternatives to motor vehicles, such as a trade-in scheme where diesel vehicles can be exchanged for a season ticket, car club membership or e-bike; and we think buses should be the priority for any retrofit programmes.  

We need proven solutions not gimmicks

Removing speed bumps is no solution. These were introduced, often after hard-won local campaigns, to make streets safer, particularly around schools. It is not acceptable to reduce safety in order to improve air quality, nor is it necessary. Most of the pollution comes from high volumes of traffic on major routes, not traffic calmed neighbourhoods.

There are many more sensible policies that can help deliver cleaner air, such as Workplace Parking Levies, smarter last mile deliveries, and using the planning system to reduce car dependency.   Rail freight should be part of the solution as it produces up to 15 times less nitrogen dioxide emissions than HGVs for the equivalent journey. 

We need a plan that delivers for every community

Air pollution is a problem in communities across the country. The vast majority of local authority districts have one or more air quality management areas and the latest plan identifies forty local authorities that breach NO2 levels.

As a minimum, the next Government should indicate the intention to designate these as Clean Air Zones now: or better still, introduce a complete national network covering all local authorities.  By failing to do either, it risks leaving too many communities to continue to suffer unhealthy air for longer.

The solutions are proven: what is needed is the funding and powers to deliver them. This draft plan must be significantly improved for that goal to be achieved. 

We need people to speak up in the consultation

ClientEarth, the campaigning lawyers whose earlier court victories forced the Government to act, are mounting a new legal challenge: we agree with them that the draft Air Quality Plan is wholly inadequate and a fresh consultation on an improved plan is needed.

But it’s still important that people take part in the consultation now, so that the next Government hears loud and clear what is needed to deliver the clean air that every community deserves. You can see our response here.

The Healthy Air Campaign, of which we are part, has a helpful online response tool, or you can respond via the Government website where  you can also see the draft plan and background reports.   

The consultation on the draft plan is open until 15 June.  Please take the time to have your say.