Air Pollution: A10 and Broxbourne

Part of Petition - Closure of Ward 6, Bishop Auckland General Hospital – in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 31st October 2018.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 7:12 pm, 31st October 2018

I understand that. Broxbourne has come to the attention of the Government via national modelling and local modelling specifically because of nitrogen dioxide emissions on that stretch of road. That is why the Government are working directly with Broxbourne. I have already indicated to my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will be making the determination. I fully expect that the location and the travel routes that are being proposed would be part of his consideration.

I pay tribute to Broxbourne Borough Council, as I believe it has embraced this important situation with a positive attitude. It appears to recognise that what may appear to be politically difficult decisions on tackling air quality still have to be taken in a timely manner to proactively improve air quality. Frankly, I wish more councils would act in such a proactive manner. I have already suggested to my hon. Friend that I cannot comment directly on the application. I have to leave it at the comments that I have made twice to the House now on the process and next steps.

I also commend Jim Shannon for his commitment to the issue. He talked about the importance of improving air quality across the United Kingdom. He will be aware that how this gets tackled is a devolved matter, but I am sure that he will support the positive action that is being taken to increase the opportunities for electric charging and similar. He and I were together at the bike ride for the poppy appeal—[Interruption.] Indeed, you took part, too, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am pleased to say that he and I managed to achieve the same distance on the electric bike and that we were not the slowest—but nor were we the fastest.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne is keen to see quick progress. I am conscious of the decision that he wants the Secretary of State to make on this matter, but I stress to the House that it is important that we work together on the impacts of air pollution. I am conscious of what he said about lorry movements today.

I thought it might be worth adding that, although we have largely been talking about the impact of NO2 emissions, the other challenge that people are increasingly becoming aware of—I expect that the Royal College of Physicians is increasingly pressing the case on this—is tackling the issue of particulate matter. This tends to be soot and dust—that is largely the way of describing it—and the width of a human hair is 10 times more than the size of one of these elements of particulate matter. That gives hon. Members an indication of quite how tiny these elements are.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow, the World Health Organisation is holding its first ever global conference on the impact of air pollution on human health. I am conscious that my hon. Friend is very concerned about the impact on the health of his residents, particularly along the A10. I am really pleased that this issue is gaining traction. One challenge of NO2 emissions—I point out that we are absolutely compliant with the law on particulate matter emissions—is that NO2 particularly affects those who are already vulnerable to poor health, whether they are little children, people with asthma or elderly people. The challenge of particulate matter is that it pretty much has an impact on everybody. It is one of those things—it can simply get through our internal systems and cause difficulties when we breathe in. The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants has re-released figures that suggest that the deaths of fewer than 40,000 people can be attributed to the impact of air pollution, but that is still 40,000 people too many.

This is a challenge that we face as a country. We have been praised by the WHO on what we are trying to do about particulate matter. It is why there has been a call for evidence, which has closed, on particulate matter coming from tyres and brakes—I am conscious that that may well be a consideration in terms of the HGVs, as well as other vehicles, along the A10. We have also undertaken a consultation on the impact of domestic burning, which accounts for about 40% of the particulate matter generated in this country.

The Government are taking a holistic approach to how we tackle climate change and air quality. It is important that the two go together. We need to put more focus on the actions that each of us can take to improve air quality in our homes and communities, and I assure the House that the Government are treating this as very important indeed. Our intention is to continue to improve air quality for all the associated public health benefits. We are taking action alongside Broxbourne Borough Council and across the country to realise this vision. I thank my hon. Friend again for affording me the opportunity to respond to his concerns in this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.