“This Government are committed to making sure that ours is the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. As part of that, I am personally deeply committed to the importance of clean air. I can tell the House that since 2011, the Government have announced over £2 billion to help bus operators upgrade their fleets; support the development and take up of low-emission vehicles; reduce pollution from vehicles such as refuse trucks and fire engines; and promote the development of clean alternative fuels. In addition, in the Autumn Statement, we announced a further £290 million to support electric vehicles, low-emission buses and taxis, and alternative fuels.
Our actions have enabled the UK to make significant progress on improving its air quality since 2010. We now have lower emissions of the five key pollutants: volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, ammonia, particulates and nitrogen oxides. However, due to the failure of EU vehicle emission standards to deliver the expected improvements in air quality, the UK is among 17 European countries, including France and Germany, that are not yet meeting EU emission targets for nitrogen dioxide in parts of our towns and cities. We are taking strong action to remedy that. Since November my department has been working jointly with the Department for Transport to update the Government’s national air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide. We have updated the analytical base for the plan to reflect new evidence, following the Volkswagen scandal and the failure of the EU’s regulatory regime to deliver the improvements expected on emissions. The plan adapts to these new circumstances by setting out a framework for action.
Following long-standing precedent, we have now entered the period of pre-election sensitivity that precedes elections. In accordance with the guidance covering both local and general elections, the propriety and ethics team in the Cabinet Office has told us that it would not be appropriate to launch the consultation and publish the air quality plan during this time. The Government have therefore applied to the High Court for a short extension of the deadline to publish the national air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide so that we can comply with pre-election propriety rules. The Government are seeking to publish a draft plan by