Campaigners call for new clean air act

5th July 2016

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Janet Critchley

New legislation to improve air quality is desperately needed, according to environmental campaigners, lawyers, the Liberal Democrats and the mayor of London.

The call was made on the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, which was passed in response to the great smog of 1952 and introduced measures such as smoke control areas. However, campaigners now argue that new legislation is required to fight modern sources of air pollution such as diesel vehicles.

Liberal Democrats Kate Parminter (environment spokesperson), Jenny Randerson (transport spokesperson) and Catherine Bearder (MEP) have written to environment secretary Liz Truss urging the government to enshrine EU air quality legislation and pollution limits in national law so that they are not watered down as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

The letter states: ‘We urge you to ensure that in coming Brexit negotiations, the UK government follows through on EU agreements to tackle air pollution and enshrines essential limits into British law. Leaving the EU must not be used as a way to water down vital air quality legislation. Do not betray the legacy of the Clean Air Act by allowing the UK to become the dirty man of Europe once again.’

Last week, new pollution limits under the EU National Emissions Ceiling Directive were agreed, creating binding targets for all member states, including the UK. Member states agreed to reduce mortality from air pollution by 49.6% by 2030. The European parliament and commission had originally called for a 52% cut, but this was watered down in negotiations with member states, including the UK.

Environmental lawyers at ClientEarth, which is taking the UK government to court over its failure to deal with air pollution, have outlined what measures should be included in the new legislation.

These include: retaining the objectives under the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive as a minimum safeguard on human health; consolidating the disparate body of domestic, EU and international air pollution laws into one coherent piece of legislation; clarifying the roles and responsibilities of national government, local authorities, the mayor of London and devolved administrations; and ensuring coherence with other policies and legislation, particularly the Climate Change Act and planning guidance.

ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton said: ‘Instead of making the same arguments against taking action that were made 60 years ago we need the government to wake up to our air pollution crisis. We need a new Clean Air Act to safeguard our legal protections and ensure our right to breathe clean air.’

London mayor Sadiq Khan also called for new national legislation on air pollution. Launching a consultation on proposals to clean up the capital’s air, Khan urged the government to work with him on improving air quality. ‘New legislation needs to provide new powers and legal protections to ensure that the existing legal limits for air pollutants are retained following Brexit,’ he said.

The consultation confirms plans announced by Khan the week after taking office. The central London ultra-low emission zone proposed by former mayor Boris Johnson will be implemented one year early, in 2019, and will be extended to motorcycles, cars and vans inside the north and south circular roads; and for lorries, buses and coaches London-wide.

Khan wants to bring forward the requirement for all double-deck buses to be ULEZ-compliant in central London from 2020 to 2019 and implement clean bus corridors by procuring low-emissions vehicles on routes with the poorest air quality.

The consultation also proposes a £10 surcharge on the congestion charge from 2017 for all vehicles with pre-Euro 4 emission standards.

Meanwhile, research has revealed that the planned phase-out of coal-fired power stations in the UK by 2025 could save up to 2,870 lives a year, more than 1,300 of them in continental Europe. The finding is in a report from the Health and Environment Alliance, Climate Action Network Europe, WWF and Sandbag examining health issues caused by dust from coal plants travelling across borders.

The report identifies the UK as one of five EU countries whose coal power plants do most harm in other countries, causing 1,350 premature deaths in 2013. The other countries were Poland (4,690 deaths); Germany (2,490); Romania (1,660) and Bulgaria (1,390).


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