Air quality plans urgently needed to tackle ‘public health emergency’

MPs from the cross-party environment, food and rural affairs committee have written to the government criticising it for missing Monday’s High Court deadline for publishing draft plans to improve air quality.

With towns and cities across the UK exceeding legal nitrogen dioxide limits, the committee wants urgent action.

In the letter, committee chair Neil Parish highlighted the fact that poor air quality contributes to the 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.

He called on the secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, Andrea Leadsom, to take action to ‘tackle this public health emergency’.

Last month his committee, along with the environmental audit, health and transport committees, launched a joint inquiry into improving air quality following the High Court’s requirement that the government publish new plans for meeting legal limits on nitrogen dioxide.

The High Court judgement was the second time that the UK courts had found against the government over its failure to prepare adequate plans to tackle the high levels of pollution blighting urban communities.

The court set a deadline of April 24 but following the calling of the general election, the government proposed delaying publication until June.

That proposal was rejected by the High Court and the government now has until May 9 to publish its plans.

‘This is an unacceptable delay, which would result in final plans not being produced until the autumn,’ Mr Parish said in the letter written prior to the judgement.

‘It is essential that the government acts with all speed to finalise plans to cut emissions so as to protect the health of people living in polluted areas.

‘Plans for Clean Air Zones across the UK must be put in place urgently to reduce levels of pollutants to not only meet legal levels but also to ensure that people are not exposed to unnecessary health risks.

‘Whilst work on the current select committees’ joint inquiry has to end with the dissolution of this parliament, we recommend that the government’s plans to improve air quality be considered as a high priority for our successor committee’s scrutiny in the next parliament.’

Photo by David Holt London

Austin Macauley

Austin Macauley

Editor, Environment Journal

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