Defra consults on new air quality plans

30th September 2015


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  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Air ,
  • Prevention & Control ,
  • UK government

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IEMA

Defra has issued a consultation on plans to improve air quality in each of the 38 zones exceeding the annual limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) set by EU legislation.

The move comes after the Supreme Court ordered the environment department in April to produce a meaningful plan by the end of the year to ensure that the limits on NO2 emissions are met as soon as possible. In 2013, 38 of the 43 air quality zones in the UK exceeded the annual 40 μg/m3 threshold for NO2 set by the EU ambient air quality Directive, which came into force in 2010.

According to revised forecasts from Defra, up to 35 zones will be compliant by 2020 if no additional action is taken. The consultation, which applies to England, Northern Ireland and Wales, also sets out possible actions at local, regional and national levels to ensure the EU NO2 limits are achieved in "the shortest possible time" in all areas, particularly in hotspots including London, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Southampton and Derby.

The measures include a national framework of local clean air zones, possibly restricting access to some vehicles, and support to encourage the uptake and development of infrastructure for low emissions and electric vehicles. Defra says the additional measures will ensure all UK zones will be compliant by 2020, apart from Greater London, which is projected to meet the standard by 2025.

Launching the plans, environment secretary Liz Truss said tackling air pollution was a government priority. However, ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews described the proposals as a list of "meaningless assurances and half-measures".

"The plans contain only one new national measure, 'clean air zones', which would restrict older vehicles entering the most polluted city centres but leaving it to overstretched and underfunded local authorities to implement them," he said. "We therefore don't have any idea if or when these clean air zones will ever materialise."

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