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Air Quality

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:37 am on 22nd February 2018.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:37 am, 22nd February 2018

In July last year we published the UK plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide concentrations. Yesterday the High Court handed down its judgment following a challenge to that plan, and the judge dismissed two of the three complaints that were considered in relation to England. Specifically, he found that there is no error in the Government’s approach to tackling NO2 concentration exceedances in areas with some of the worst air quality problems, and that the national air quality modelling and monitoring that underpin the plan fulfil our legal requirements. On the five cities identified in 2015 as having particularly marked air quality challenges—Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Southampton and Leeds—the judge found that the Government’s approach to tackling their exceedances was “sensible, rational and lawful.”

The Court has asked us to go further in areas with less severe air quality problems. We previously considered that it was sufficient to take a pragmatic, less formal approach to such areas. I wrote to several councils in November, and that was followed up by officials who asked them to provide initial information on the action they were taking by 28 February. However, in view of the Court’s judgment, we are happy to take a more formal approach, and I have already written to the local authorities, asking them to attend a meeting on 28 February to discuss that information and their plans, and whether they can take any additional action to accelerate achieving compliance with legal limits of NO2 concentrations. We will follow that up in March by issuing legally binding directions that require those councils to undertake studies to identify any such measures. As required by the Court order, we will publish a supplement to the 2017 plan by 5 October, drawing on the outcome of the authorities’ feasibility studies and plans.

As we set out in the 2017 plan, the Government are absolutely committed to improving air quality. We have pledged to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it. Later this year, we will be publishing a comprehensive clean air strategy, which will set out further steps to tackle air pollution more broadly.