Air Pollution: Deprived Areas

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at on 21 February 2019.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

What steps his Department is taking to tackle air pollution in deprived areas.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Last month we published the clean air strategy, which sets out concerted action to reduce emissions from a range of sources and to improve public health. The nitrogen dioxide plan is supported by a £3.5 billion investment in improving air quality and cleaner transport. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that air quality is a devolved issue, and the Welsh Government published their revised plan in November 2018.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

The Minister knows that we have been successfully taken to court by the EU on four occasions for breaching air quality standards. Is she aware that teenagers are four times as likely to develop depression and other mental health conditions in highly polluted areas, which tend to be deprived, and that that risk is higher than that of physical abuse in bringing about mental health disorders? Will she guarantee that after Brexit we will maintain EU air quality standards, and enforce them as they change and improve so that we do not become the coughing man of Europe?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is incorrect to say that the EU has taken the Government to court four times. We are in the middle of infraction proceedings, and we will be going on with that. Nevertheless, I am aware of the correlation put forward by scientists between air quality and depression, and that is something we need to tackle. The House will be aware that we have set in statute air quality standards until 2030, and we will continue to drive down emissions and pollution in our air. I am sure the Welsh Government will want to do the same.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

The Minister will remember from the joint Select Committee report on air pollution, “Improving air quality”, that the Committees were dissatisfied with our knowledge about air pollution because direct measurements were not being made. What action is the Minister taking to ensure more accurate knowledge and measurements of existing pollution, rather than relying on models?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Local authorities undertake air quality monitoring, but not necessarily to the same level as is required for standards that have been set and agreed across the European Union. We will continue to increase the monitoring network across the country. Local authorities already have powers to tackle such issues, and we are encouraging them to do so.