Defra Review of Local Air Quality Management in England

Two stories came across my inbox in the last couple of days – the first, a piece outlining DEFRA’s consultation on local air quality management in England (see https://consult.defra.gov.uk/communications/https-consult-defra-gov-uk-laqm_review) and the second, a really good piece by Geoff Lean (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthcomment/geoffrey-lean/) of The Daily Telegraph.

Firstly, the local air quality management (LAQM) regime has long been recognised as overly bureaucratic and under-performing. DEFRA’s consultation says there is a need to “reinvigorate and refocus local air quality management” towards achieving EU air quality standards, rather than diagnosing poor air quality at a local level. Its preferred option to achieve this would be to repeal of councils’ existing LAQM duties to assess, report on and tackle poor air quality in designated air quality management areas (AQMAs). All 520 AQMAs in England would be scrapped and no new ones would be designated.

So, at a time when air quality is a challenge all cities in the UK appear to be struggling to deal with – largely as a consequence of traffic emissions – why are the few (and weak) regulations in place being considered ‘scrappable’?

What’s driving this question? Is it the view that regulation is bad, unnecessary and ineffective or is it driven by Whitehall’s desire to reduce costs on the public purse? DEFRA’s consultation impact assessment includes up to £48.5m in savings over 10 years from reduced monitoring by council. The department notes that there would probably be “less scrutiny… on local hotspots”.

At a time when awareness of local hotspots is high amongst effected communities, removing the need to monitor air quality would undermine a local authority’s ability to act upon it. Given the extent to which EU air quality objectives are being breached, this is madness.

A well considered piece in The Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/green-motoring/10190942/Why-is-killer-diesel-still-poisoning-our-air.html) states: “Last year the World Health Organisation officially designated diesel fumes as a cause of cancer alongside asbestos and plutonium. And the most deadly particulates are largely made of black carbon, which is emerging as one of the most important causes of global warming. So the saving in carbon dioxide emissions is almost certainly outweighed. Instead of combating climate change, the dash to diesel is likely to be making it worse.”

So, at a time when Government policies have created an increase in diesel engines and air quality isn’t getting better, is it right to reduce the ‘burden’ of monitoring and acting upon air pollution?

More cynically, why are DEFRA consulting now, through the summer period when response rates are notoriously low and the visibility of this consultation is low. I would urge those of you reading this blog to ensure you respond to the consultation.

https://consult.defra.gov.uk/communications/https-consult-defra-gov-uk-laqm_review Image

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Author: Andy Nolan

An experienced director-level professional with expertise in sustainable development, cities, universities, governance, policy and strategy. 15 years of experience working in the field of sustainability in both the private and public sector. Has worked within a local authority, in multi-authority partnerships locally and nationally. Experience in higher education across four universities in the UK plus representative bodies. Particular areas of interest and expertise include; energy; transport; climate change; waste management; air quality; decentralised energy; education for sustainability; smart cities; knowledge transfer; research.

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