Amendment 150A

Environment Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 5th July 2021.

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Baroness Sheehan:

Moved by Baroness Sheehan

150A: After Clause 71, insert the following new Clause—“Air quality: speed limits (1) The national speed limit for restricted roads in England is 20 miles per hour.(2) Nothing in this section affects the power of traffic authorities responsible for such roads to make exceptions to the national speed limit where appropriate.”Member’s explanatory statementThe purpose of this amendment is to reduce the number of fine particulates released into the air from non-exhaust emissions (NEE), such as brake, tyre and road surface wear. The Air Quality Expert Group, an expert committee of DEFRA, has found that one of the most effective mitigation strategies for NEE is to lower the speed of traffic and promote driving behaviour that reduces braking and higher-speed cornering.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this amendment is in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I strongly support Amendments 151A and 151B in the name of my noble friend Lady Randerson. The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, have similar aims and also have my support.

The amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Tope and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, are ones that I strongly agree with. They are very comprehensive in nature and, if accepted by the Government, would help immeasurably to bear down on the non-traffic-related causes of urban pollution. They dovetail nicely with my amendment, which aims to bear down on traffic-related air pollution.

I should declare an interest as a founder of the campaign group 20’s Plenty for Merton. My amendment is simple: to reduce to 20 miles per hour the speed limit on “restricted roads”, which are defined in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 as being roads on which there are streetlights

“not more than 200 yards apart”.

Emissions from vehicles arise from two sources: the exhaust emissions—the noxes, the oxides of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and particulates—and non-exhaust emissions, the NEEs, which noble Lords might not be so familiar with. NEEs are particulates, the majority of which are fine particulates, PM2.5s and smaller. They arise from the friction of rubber on tarmac, brake wear and road dust re-suspension.

Two things happen when vehicles slow down. First, exhaust emissions from vehicles are reduced—much more so from diesel vehicles than from petrol. Secondly, non-exhaust emissions are also reduced, because slower speeds lead to smoother driving, with much less stop and start and therefore fewer finer particulates from tyre and brake wear and road dust. It is these non-exhaust emissions that my amendment is particularly aimed at. No legislation is currently in place to reduce non-exhaust emission particles so, while legislation has been effective at driving down emissions of particles from the exhausts of internal combustion engine vehicles, the NEE proportion of road traffic emissions has increased and will continue to do so.

Those emissions contribute to total ambient particulate matter, in particular the tinier PM2.5s and smaller particles that are so damaging to human health, with an estimated 40,000 premature deaths in the UK alone and many millions more overseas. Just last week, in another debate on air pollution on this same Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, spoke with knowledge and authority on the many ways in which these invidious small particles can damage human organs, particularly young ones. The noble Baroness and many other noble Lords cited the tragic case of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose asthma, aggravated by preventable air pollution, led to her premature death. Her death and those of many thousands of others need not have happened.

Data from the UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory indicate that particles from brake, tyre and road wear contribute 7.5% and 8.5% of all primary PM2.5 and PM10 emissions. That is a good 16%, which is quite substantial. The above data is taken from the 2019 air quality expert group report on non-exhaust emissions that was prepared for Defra and the devolved Administrations—so it is a government report that I am referring to. The report recommends that policy development with respect to non-exhaust emissions should recognise that such emissions are an important source of ambient concentrations of airborne particles and—I repeat again—will become more so as emissions from exhausts are phased out. Is that important recommendation something that the Government acknowledge and accept?

A key finding of the report is that the most effective strategy to reduce non-exhaust emissions is to lower the speed of traffic and promote driving behaviour that reduces braking and higher-speed cornering. This is effectively what my amendment aims to do.

I will offer some background. Noble Lords will know that 20 miles per hour speed limits are now widespread across the UK, with more than 21 million people living on such streets. Many of our large cities, including London, Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool and many more, are largely made up of roads with 20 miles per hour limits. Wales is planning to introduce a default 20 miles per hour limit from 2023. It is currently running a pilot in Cardiff and other areas, not to test the concept, which is proven, but to iron out administrative glitches.

Not only are 20 miles per hour speed limits overwhelmingly popular with the public where they have been implemented, they are influencing modal shifts in towns and cities as more people feel safer and more confident about walking on roads where traffic is calmer. There is a real societal shift in behaviour where these lower speed limits have been introduced.

There are a number of other advantages. In moving from 31 miles per hour to 19 miles per hour there is a two-decibel to three-decibel reduction in traffic noise, so noise pollution comes down. Another advantage is that electric vehicles are far more efficient at lower speeds, leading to lower demand on the grid. As a member of the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee I have been listening to evidence to our batteries and fuel cell inquiry, and more than one witness has expressed concern about meeting the demand for green electricity that the move to EVs will generate. We must prepare and plan for that, and any measure that reduces demand will help enormously.

The last advantage I want to mention is “levelling up”, a term that the Government use quite often. Child pedestrians are four times more likely to be injured in the most deprived wards than in the least deprived wards, and air pollution in deprived wards is substantially worse. Therefore, lower speed limits would benefit the most disadvantaged, and that is no mean consideration.

Wales and Scotland are making huge progress in bringing in 20 mph limits. Can the Minister say whether this is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly?

The introduction of a 20 mph default speed limit across the UK would really stamp this as a landmark Bill and show that the UK means business both on climate change and on air pollution, which so adversely impacts public health. It would provide instant support for local authorities to implement measures to reduce all traffic-generated emissions and do away with the costly and time-consuming processes they currently face to introduce lower speed limits. A 20 mph limit has the support of the National Heart Forum, the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the World Health Organization, as well as the UN General Assembly.

I really cannot see any negatives to reducing speeds on restricted roads in towns and cities to 20 mph. It would be a fitting legacy to the coroner’s landmark decision that saw Ella’s death as the first recorded death directly attributable to air pollution for this Bill to have the immediate positive impact that reducing speed limits would bring to public health. I hope to hear in reply from the Minister that the Government are giving my amendment serious consideration. To that end, I hope that she will agree to meet me and colleagues to discuss the issue further.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 4:30 pm, 5th July 2021

My Lords, I shall speak specifically to the amendments in my name, Amendments 151A and 151B. I also support the other amendments in the group. As my noble friend Lady Sheehan ably and clearly set out the issues in relation to emissions and particulates from vehicles, I will not repeat what she said, for the sake of brevity, but I wish to underline the importance of the information that she has dealt with.

The purpose of my amendments is simple: to set out clear obligations on local authorities to monitor air pollution at those points where it is likely to be highest, such as near busy roads, and where it is most damaging to human health, such as near hospitals and schools—because children are especially vulnerable. They would oblige local authorities to take action as a result of such monitoring and to publicise that action plan.

Local authorities already have powers to monitor air quality, and additional powers to encourage environmentally-friendly behaviour that improves it. For example, stationary idling of a car is an offence under Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It can incur a £20 fixed penalty under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002—that penalty going up for late payment. So this is old hat, but the key point is that the fine is imposed only if the driver fails to switch off their engine when asked.

It is local authorities which issue those penalties rather than the police. As all noble Lords will know, local authorities are massively overstretched, with multiple responsibilities and inadequate funding. For many of them, this simply is not a priority, although there are some that make it so. For example, Islington Council had a crackdown on idling vehicles in 2014, and again in 2016, but it is an exception and not the norm. With a host of other powers, such as safe routes to school, pedestrianisation, 20 mph zones—as my noble friend has outlined—low emission zones, the provision of charging points for electric vehicles et cetera, some local authorities are much more enthusiastic than others, and some are simply better resourced to use the powers effectively.

My noble friend referred to the devolved Administrations. In Cardiff, where I live, we are well used to 20 mph zones, which are dotted around the capital city of Wales. Although there was a minor controversy in the early months of their introduction, it has been notable how widely effective they are and how people accept them. Traffic speeds have undoubtedly reduced as a result.

My amendments would establish a baseline which would raise the game for local authorities and ensure that the Government set the high standards and proactive approach, and provide the leadership which will be needed if the UK is to get anywhere near government targets by the dates that they have set. It should be emphasised that if local authorities are to take a uniformly more proactive approach, they need the funding to do so.

Those of us who work with these issues are sometimes surprised that public knowledge and understanding of the impact of traffic and other forms of air pollution is so poor. The tragic death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, referred to by many noble Lords, and the coroner’s ruling on it turned statistics into an understandable human story. She lived close to the South Circular road, but the link between her asthma and her living conditions was not properly understood back in 2013. There is now research evidence from a large study in Lambeth that a period of high levels of air pollution, particularly diesel-related air pollution, leads immediately to a spike in the number of people going to see their GP with breathing difficulties. That spike includes a disproportionately high number of children.

Local authorities have public health responsibilities, and a natural part of those must be to take a more proactive approach to reducing air pollution and to informing their residents of those areas to avoid because they are heavily polluted.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I am extremely happy to see so many noble Lords interested in this issue, because it is a massive national health issue that we really have to do something about. I agree completely that “20’s plenty”. Reducing the speed limit to 20 mph would not only reduce emissions and improve the health of people living alongside those roads but reduce the number of casualties—the road deaths and injuries—that cost the nation a fortune in social services, the NHS and policing. Anything to do with lowering the speed limit has a lot of benefits. The only negative appears to be a few irate car drivers who think that it is okay to drive at 80 or 90 mph in towns and cities.

My amendments seek to create a comprehensive system of targets, monitoring and funding to reduce air pollution levels to World Health Organization guideline levels. I know that we are not supposed to get involved in money or government finances, but it is not possible to end this crisis without significant public spending. The Government must make the money available to local authorities to transform their communities and clean up their air.

I first became aware of the huge problem of air pollution in London when I was on the London Assembly. I lived through Ken Livingstone’s eight years and the Boris Johnson’s eight years in power; Ken Livingstone did seem to get this, and the congestion charge obviously helped. In Boris Johnson’s time, we were in the build-up to the Olympics. At that point, there were only two monitoring stations in London from which the EU—it oversaw and monitored our air pollution—accepted information. One of the stations was on Marylebone Road, opposite Madame Tussauds. It is still there, and the intake pipe is some 12 feet above the road. Anybody who understands anything about air pollution knows that it is mostly lower, and that is why we should be very careful with children in prams, but this was 12 feet up. Our air was still polluted and higher than EU levels, so that gives an indication of how dirty our air was then.

My amendments are based on my clean air Bill that I keep putting into the ballot to be debated here. It has had a lot of legal input; I clearly think it is the best, but I am prepared to discuss this. One measure that Boris Johnson put in place because of the air pollution on the way to the Olympic Park was to install quite a lot of potted plants along the roadside. They were very attractive, but I am not sure that they did much to reduce the pollution—but he had been told that they might, so he put them in.

It is obvious that local authorities also need tougher powers to clean up other dirty sources of pollution, so my Amendment 153 proposes powers to prohibit the use of fireplaces, wood-burning appliances, diesel vehicles and other sources of pollutants in air pollution improvement zones. The Government have recognised that something needs to be done on air pollution, and this is a very good Bill to do it in. It will be very embarrassing if we get to COP 26 and still have this sort of pollution problem.

In summary, air pollution is a national health crisis: it costs us billions every year. It affects the old and the young. Several of us have mentioned Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived next to a dirty, filthy road and died at nine years old because of her asthma. It is children who will have health problems all their lives because of living near polluted roads. This Bill is an ideal opportunity to fix this problem. We know what the solutions are, and they are here in these amendments, so I hope that the Government accept them.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and co-president of London Councils, the body that represents the 32 London boroughs and the City of London Corporation.

I will speak to Amendments 156A to 156M in my name. In doing so, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, for adding her name to them, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who has confirmed to me her support for these amendments but sadly was a little too late to add her name.

We are starting now to consider the part of this Bill on air quality and it is, perhaps, interesting and relevant to note that today is the anniversary of the date on which Royal Assent was given to the first national Clean Air Act, back in 1956. The problem is still very much with us; indeed, in many respects, it is much worse than it was then. Air pollution is a very serious problem which affects us all. It contributes to up to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, so I welcome the Government’s acknowledgment of the risk that poor air quality presents to human health.

I also welcome the Minister’s recognition—repeated in his letter to all Peers, dated 10 June—that,

“local authorities will have an important role to play in delivering reductions in PM2.5.”

My amendments come as a package and seek to give substance to that recognition by the Minister.

In the last Session of Parliament, I introduced the Emissions Reduction (Local Authorities in London) Bill to change this and I have been trying to reintroduce it again in this Session. That Bill had the support of both the City of London Corporation and London Councils, and sought powers for local authorities in London to control emissions from combustion plants if their borough had air pollution above WHO guidelines. That Bill was restricted to London but, of course, it is a much wider problem than simply in London, and I recognise that. My amendments, therefore, cover the whole of the country and are not restricted to any particular areas. They introduce a series of proposed new clauses to the Bill, mirroring the clauses of my previous Private Member’s Bill, but applying them well beyond London to all local authorities.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to reduce emissions in their areas. However, they do not have sufficient powers to take effective action to achieve such reductions. Public attention has rightly been focused on the need to cut emissions from vehicles, but very little has been said of non-road pollution and emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, dangerous carcinogens that penetrate deep into our lungs and bloodstream. Many emissions are from these non-road sources, collectively referred to as “combustion plant”. As we make improvements in reducing emissions from vehicles, we must shift our focus to these other sources of pollution.

The pandemic saw a drastic decrease in road use and a consequential reduction in road emissions. For example, lockdown resulted in levels of nitrogen dioxide in the City of London 40% lower than in 2019. However, the pollutant most damaging to human health, known as PM2.5, remained at roughly the same level. The negligible impact on PM2.5 of such a significant reduction in transport activity highlights the importance of reducing non-road emissions.

The proposed new clauses introduced by these amendments would give local authorities additional discretionary powers. The amendments have the support of the City of London Corporation, which has a long history of involvement in cleaning up London’s dirty air, and of London Councils, the representative body of the London boroughs. However, as I said before, the clauses in this Bill relate to all local authorities in England. Amendment 156A would insert a new clause that grants any local authority in England the power to designate an area within its borders an air quality improvement area—with the acronym “AQIA”—if the air quality of that area exceeds WHO air quality guidelines for one or more pollutants. This designation is, in effect, a gateway to implementing the range of air quality measures provided for in the rest of this group of new clauses.

At present, some local authorities attempt to use planning controls to regulate various types of polluting plant. This has proved to be ineffective, which is not surprising because planning controls were never intended to be used in this manner. The system of regulation established by these new clauses would empower local authorities to take action to reduce emissions and enable the Secretary of State to set emission limits that will have practical implications.

Amendment 156B provides the power to ensure that, where it applies in an Air Quality Improvement Area—AQIA—the amount of nitrogen oxides emitted by certain gas-fired boilers within the area must

“be less than an amount specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.”

It also creates an offence in relation to the “installation” of such plants.

Amendment 156C has a similar effect in relation to “non-road mobile machinery” such as gardening equipment and construction and agricultural machinery. It applies limits to the amount of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that can be emitted by this machinery within an AQIA and provides for offences for operating non-compliant machinery.

Amendment 156D applies limits specified by the Secretary of State to the amount of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emitted by certain “stationary generators” within the AQIA and creates offences, as before. Many office buildings have back-up diesel generators for the event of a power cut. Instead, they are operated to lower the building’s electricity costs by selling electricity back into the grid. This frequently occurs during periods of high atmospheric pressure, temperature inversion, cold weather and high pollution, when the nitrogen oxide and particulate matter cannot easily be dispersed and becomes trapped. This new clause would enable local authorities to set periods when the operation of these generators would be prohibited, except in the case of a power cut.

Amendment 156E inserts a new clause that provides that, in an AQIA, the amount of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emitted by certain solid-fuel boilers

“must be less than an amount specified ... by the Secretary of State”, with similar installation offences. Amendment 156F provides similar powers in relation to

“Combined cooling, heat and power” plants.

Amendment 156G inserts a new clause in relation to any offence created by Amendments 156B to 156F, so that, where such an offence has been committed by a body corporate, an individual can also be held liable.

Amendment 156H provides a defence to these offences if the person charged “reasonably believed” the plant to have been “designed to comply” with the regulations, “not modified” and

“maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.”

Amendment 156J allows a local authority to

“require the occupier of any premises within an air quality improvement area ... to supply such information as may be specified in that notice”, with offences for non-compliance.

Amendment 156K relates to the “stationary idling” of vehicles, to which my noble friends have already referred in this debate. More action must be taken to reduce this avoidable pollution, which often occurs outside schools, causing serious harm to children’s developing lungs. As my noble friend Lady Randerson has already said, stationary idling is already illegal, but the penalty of £20 is hardly a deterrent—and she has already referred to the limitations on its enforcement. This new clause increases the penalty within an AQIA to £100, rising to £150 in certain circumstances.

Amendment 156L inserts a new clause that obliges the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying the maximum nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions permitted for each type of plant described in Amendments 156B to 156F. Finally, Amendment 156M defines key terms used in other clauses in this group.

These amendments come as a package, intended to give local authorities effective power to actually bring about the reduction in emissions that we—including the Minister—are all seeking to achieve. It is reassuring to see increasing public understanding of the silent killer of air pollution, but we can and should go further. We have an opportunity in this Bill to empower local authorities across the country to tackle more effectively the problem of non-road emissions, with the potential to make a significant impact in combating England’s poor air.

I look forward to the Minister’s agreeing that these amendments do indeed give substance to his recognition that local authorities have an important role to play in improving air quality—and that the Government will support them.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 4:45 pm, 5th July 2021

My Lords, this is my first appearance in the Chamber for many a long year—it seems even longer than it actually was—but it is a great pleasure to follow a tour de force by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in his speech, the range of his amendments and his resilience and perseverance in getting them on the statute book.

I asked to speak on this group for two reasons. First, I should declare an interest: I am still a vice-president, and was until recently president, of Environmental Protection UK, which, in its former existence, was the National Society for Clean Air. It was very instrumental in creating the Clean Air Act 1956, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has just referred.

Primarily, however, I put down my name because I had earlier put down a separate amendment to Clause 2 that leads in to what is being discussed in these amendments. We had a self-congratulatory session on Clause 2 because it is of course a very important principle that we set targets, and I congratulate the Government on making one of their first targets the reduction of PM2.5.

My amendments pointed out that that would require substantial monitoring, systems of enforcement and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and others have said, effective powers and resources for local authorities. Of course, it would also have to be recognised that it is not simply vehicular traffic that causes air pollution in our towns and cities but a range of other sites and machinery, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has drawn attention. A comprehensive approach requires a serious transfer of resources to local authorities and a sharpening up of the powers they currently have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, have already said.

I think that this justifies my earlier intervention, and I hope that the Government and Minister can signal tonight that the Government have taken on board the ideas of the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and my noble friend Lord Kennedy, who is not in his place. I hope that, before the Bill completes its passage, we have a comprehensive proposition from the Government, covering all these areas, which will genuinely give the powers and resources to local authorities to implement these measures, and that will make a real dent in the problems of air quality in our towns and cities. I hope that, at the end of this debate, the Minister will be able to indicate that that is precisely what the Government intend to do.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 5:00 pm, 5th July 2021

My Lords, I am delighted to support the idea that we should go for 20 miles per hour speed limits. The consequences of accidents at 20 miles per hour are much reduced. It makes for a much friendlier environment for walking and cycling and, as the noble Baroness said, it absolutely results in improvements in air quality. We do not need the centres of our towns and cities to be places of rush and danger, particularly with the decline in the viability of our high streets. We want them to be places where people feel comfortable, enjoy being and want to go to for all sorts of reasons. It ought to be easy and conventional. It ought to be the rule that, where people are numerous and we want them to be at ease, we go for a 20 miles per hour speed limit. It is absolutely justified in terms of the objectives of this Bill.

So far as air quality generally is concerned, I come back to the point, which I made in earlier debates, that we must have better research. We are quite capable of it. It is not very helpful to talk about PM2.5 as if this is some universal characteristic; it is just a size. It does not tell you anything about where the particles came from and what, therefore, can be done to reduce their concentration. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, pointed out, in some places lockdown resulted in sharp drops in nitrogen oxides and other such pollutants but no drop in PM2.5, so what is going on here? Were the particulates really coming from diesel engines, or have we, again, been barking up the wrong tree? It is not difficult to find the answer. All you have to do is pick out individual particles, analyse them and find out what their origins are. A particle that comes from burning wood is very different from a particle that comes from diesel—at least on average. A particle from emissions from a heavy industrial source is very different from one from a light engine. We need to do this research, and we need to do it locally, so that we can undertake actions that make a difference.

The main difficulty that I have with the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is that they seem to assume the sources of pollution are all local. How do we know unless we have done the research? If we do the research, that immediately gives us the moral and intellectual authority to take action against a particular source of pollution. If we just generalise about these things, we will end up hitting lots of imaginary enemies as well—perhaps—as a real one. It is really important that we get the level of research well up. We should make it local and consistent so that we really understand what is going on when it comes to air pollution.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has withdrawn so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I have my name on several of these amendments—namely, Amendment 150A and Amendments 156A to 156M—and I support the others in this group.

Following the 1952 smogs, the Clean Air Act, as we have already heard, came in in 1956 and cut coal smoke from homes. In the 1970s, the output from power stations was high in sulphur dioxide, causing acid rain. Now, there is a lot of research to show that a major source of different particles is exhaust fumes from burning liquid fossil fuels. In 2018, the World Health Organization recognised the effects of these ultra-fine particulates, which are implicated in about 8.8 million excess deaths—around 13% of all deaths globally.

The report The Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution, from the Royal College of Physicians, has shown that it costs £20 billion in the UK alone, through 40,000 deaths per annum, ranging from heart disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, diabetes and dementia—which are all linked to atmospheric pollution.

Our death rates from asthma are the worst in Europe. Three people die every day in the UK from asthma. It costs us £1 billion a year and there are more than 5.5 million people having treatment for asthma now. People with a genetic predisposition to asthma living by main roads have worse outcomes. It does seem there are some groups in the BAME community who have a particular genetic predisposition to a type of asthma that is particularly liable to lead to death. There have been 12,700 asthma deaths in England and Wales since 2010.

The role of atmospheric pollution was shown clearly and graphically by Professor Stephen Holgate to map against Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s very severe asthma attacks, including her final and fatal attack, with spikes of nitrous oxide and particulates corresponding clearly to her severe exacerbations. These particulates from fossil fuel exhausts also cross the placenta into the foetus, resulting in a higher incidence of asthma and impaired brain development.

This means it is essential that we tackle this on every front to come into line the WHO guidance as a minimum. We cannot tolerate continuing to allow particulate air pollution, and we must harness positive behaviour and change behaviours. The impact, in fewer heart attacks, strokes and deaths from asthma and lung cancer, would be phenomenal. That is why I added my name to Amendments 156A to 156M, because there is a need to give local authorities the power that they need to protect their own populations.

I will turn briefly to speed restrictions, so comprehensively introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. I endorse every point that she made. Let us not forget that 20 million children have their homes and schools in areas of high air pollution, particularly from traffic.

The report The State of the Evidence on 20mph Speed Limits, by Dr Adrian Davis from Bristol, provides a comprehensive review of the literature. Dropping the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph decreases particulates from petrol and particularly from diesel, as well as decreasing nitrous oxide and CO2 emissions from diesel cars. Road traffic is responsible for 80% of particulate production, and diesel produces tenfold more particulates than petrol. When children are sitting in a car in a traffic jam, their exposure is even higher because cars draw in the surrounding air, which is laden with exhaust from other vehicles.

It has been estimated that a cut from 30 mph to 20 mph on urban roads would result in a drop of over 115 deaths from particulates alone, quite apart from the lower death rate in accidents. When traffic is less aggressive and moving more smoothly in urban areas, there is almost no significant delay in getting somewhere but the whole driving experience is calmer and safer. I should declare that I experience this, because I live in the Cardiff pilot area that has dropped from 30 mph to 20 mph and the benefit is tangible. I hope that the Government can support these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers

My Lords, I declare an interest as one of the 5.5 million people with asthma. In winding up this debate on behalf of these Benches, I first thank the Minister for the fact sheet about the air pollution measures in the Bill. It certainly shows willing, but it also falls short of what we would wish to see and gives rise to a number of questions. In particular, why do the Government remain to be convinced and want a whole lot more consultation about the feasibility of the pollution reductions that we are seeking, despite confirmation from many experts that these things can be achieved and would be accepted by the public?

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, will forgive me for focusing on the amendments of my noble friends, but we also support her amendments, which very much overlap with ours. I support Amendment 150A, moved by my noble friend Lady Sheehan. If the Government were to support Amendment 150A, not only would our air be cleaner and healthier but injuries and lives would be saved because of the reduced speed.

As my noble friend said, electric cars reduce NOx and CO2 emissions, but they still produce NEE particulates from tyres and brakes. A default 20-mph limit would reduce these particulates as well as noise, and injuries and deaths through accidents. Children in particular would be protected from accidents and from organ damage caused by particulates. Will the Minister note what my noble friend said about how people in disadvantaged demographics are more likely to live in areas with high levels of PM2.5?

I accept that local authorities can already designate roads with a 20-mph limit, but my noble friend’s amendment would make it much easier for them, as 20 mph would become the norm in relevant streets. Local authorities are already strapped for cash and have been given additional responsibilities through this Bill, such as imposing civil sanctions where once there were criminal offences, liaising with air quality partners and other matters. However, it is important to consider how legislation could help them to carry out some of their many responsibilities.

There is already considerable support for this measure in Wales and Scotland. In May, as soon as we were allowed, my husband and I went to Scotland for a short break. We noticed how many villages now have 20-mph limits. The traffic moved smoothly, there were no jams and people moved around safely. It was a good example of what can be done and there are similar examples in Wales. If the Minister will not accept this amendment, how do the Government intend to encourage 20-mph zones?

In her Amendments 151A and 151B, my noble friend Lady Randerson wants local authorities to “raise their game”, to be more ambitious about monitoring air pollution and, critically, in publicising the levels specifically in sensitive areas to encourage a change in behaviour, and to be funded to do so. This is particularly important for the future health of our children as well as adults. I hope that the Minister looks at my noble friend’s proposals very seriously. I note the measures already taken, but the fact remains that awareness of pollution levels is low. There may be websites and air quality alert systems, there may be leaflets about smoke control areas and recycling household waste, but the most effective information is gathered and distributed locally, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said.

I welcome initiatives such as the one in Liverpool funded by the air quality grant, which involves children in monitoring the area around their school. I am sure that they would be exerting pester-power and encouraging their parents to walk or cycle them to school, and certainly not to sit outside in their cars at the end of the school day with the engine running, as I have seen outside my local school. However, we need more. Can the Minister explain why we do not need my noble friend’s amendments?

I turn to Amendments 156A to 156M in the name of my noble friend Lord Tope. I welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of the risk to human health presented by poor air quality. That is a major step in the right direction. As we have heard, local authorities have a statutory duty to reduce emissions in their area, but even the Government have recognised that they do not have sufficient powers to take effective action to achieve such reductions, hence some of the government changes in this Bill. Public and government attention has focused mainly on the need to cut emissions from vehicles, but non-road pollution is a major problem, too often ignored, also emitting nitrogen oxide particulate matter that provides a major public health hazard, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. As we make improvements in reducing emissions from vehicles, we must shift our focus to these other sources of pollution too, which is what these amendments do.

We heard from my noble friend Lord Tope about the negligible impact on PM2.5 of the significant reduction in transport activity in London during the pandemic. This highlights the importance of reducing non-road emissions as well as speed, as emphasised by my noble friend Lady Sheehan. These amendments introduce a series of new clauses which would give local authorities additional discretionary powers. Through Amendment 156A, they would be able to designate an area as an air-quality improvement area. If the air quality in that area exceeded WHO air quality guidelines, the Secretary of State could set limits for emissions for a range of these pollutions and equipment. The amendments provide for offences for users and installers who break the regulations, and certain legitimate defences. There are also powers to time limit the use of certain plant which might have a legitimate use in case of a power cut, and to require users to provide relevant information.

Why are these powers necessary? We have heard from my noble friend Lord Tope how hard it is for local authorities to use planning controls to regulate various types of polluting plant, because they were not designed for this purpose. The system of regulation established by these new clauses empowers local authorities to take action to reduce emissions, which will have real practical implications. I am particularly supportive of Amendment 156K, which relates to the stationary idling of vehicles. More action must be taken to reduce this avoidable pollution. It is already illegal, as my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lord Tope pointed out, but the penalty of £20 is derisory. This new clause proposed in the amendment would increase the penalty to £100, rising to £150 in certain circumstances.

It is reassuring to see increasing public understanding of what my noble friend Lord Tope has rightly described as the silent killer that is air pollution, but we can and should go further. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the detail and impact on public health of air pollution. We have an opportunity in this Bill to empower local authorities across the country to tackle more effectively the problem of non-road emissions and on-road emissions, with the potential to make a significant impact in combating England’s poor-quality air. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:15 pm, 5th July 2021

My Lords, previously in Committee we have discussed the fact that polluted air is a growing national health emergency, and many noble Lords have talked about the terribly sad death of Ella Kissi-Debrah. The Bill provides an opportunity to improve people’s lives, which we must not miss. We support these amendments, which seek to do so.

On Amendment 150A, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, regarding the number of fine particulates released into the air from non-exhaust emissions and the role that speed reduction can play, noble Lords have spoken strongly in support of 20-mph speed limits and the wider benefits to society that those could bring. The noble Baroness talked particularly about the findings of the air quality expert group’s report. I also mention the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, which has made a statement on the evidence for health effects associated with exposure to non-exhaust particulate matter from road transport. These emissions currently comprise just under 10% of UK primary particulate emissions, but they are expected to become proportionately more important as vehicle exhaust PM emissions from road transport are expected to decrease over the coming years.

The committee said that as non-exhaust particles have a different composition—for example, higher metal concentrations—and a different size distribution from those emitted in vehicle exhausts, they may have different toxicological properties and health consequences. As this component of traffic emissions will become proportionately more important in future years, the recommendation from the committee is that new epidemiological and toxicological research should be undertaken to further understand the potential health risk of this aspect of vehicle pollution and to improve a basis for further policy. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas talked about the importance of carrying out research so that we have better understanding. Does the Minister’s department have any plans to undertake or commission such research? Are the Government considering speed reduction in areas of highest pollution?

I turn to Amendments 151A and 151B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. As we have heard, all local authorities have a duty to review and assess air quality within their district. The aim is to identify all areas where air quality is exceeding, or is likely to exceed, the air quality objectives. We agree with the noble Baroness that monitoring air quality standards at schools, hospitals and major roads is critical. In 2019, over 8,500 schools and almost 3,000 health centres were in areas with levels of PM2.5 above that recommended by the WHO, putting at risk the health of millions of children, patients and health workers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the funding of local authorities, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. The burden of monitoring is on the shoulders of local government. If monitoring and compliance are likely to be increased, and given the chronic lack of funding for our local authorities, how do the Government intend to resource monitoring in order to ensure a sufficient degree of data integrity? My noble friend Lord Whitty spoke about the importance of this.

Amendments 153, 154 and 155, all in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, consider the duties of the Secretary of State, local government mayors and the Committee on Climate Change, and how the monitoring of air quality and availability of related data to the public can be improved. She stressed the importance that this information must be accurately collected. But the need for improvements to the monitoring and assessment regimes should not be used as a reason to avoid setting the direction of travel now. As I have already said, we should use this Bill to start driving much-needed action, as soon as possible. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly reminded your Lordships’ House about the increased impact on deprived neighbourhoods if we do not take action.

I come to Amendments 156A to 156M in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. This series of proposed new clauses covers the control emissions from combustion plants. The noble Lord reminded your Lordships’ House that it is the anniversary of the Clean Air Act 1956. It would seem that the problem has not gone away; it has just changed. Combustion plants are a chief source of the power that lights and heats our homes. With a growing population of almost 70 million people, there are understandably tens of thousands of such facilities across the country. According to the latest figures collated by government, there are estimated to be between 30,000 and 35,000 medium combustion plants. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, rightly says, we must have a focus on those emissions—but also local authorities will need the power to take appropriate action to tackle this area of poor air quality.

Finally, I pay credit to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who has done so much work in this area. I believe that she made the critical points in the debate about the cost to our health and the number of avoidable deaths. The seriousness of this discussion cannot be underestimated, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister what further action the Government intend to take through this Bill to start to resolve these problems.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken with such passion, interest and informed intelligence on this subject.

I start with Amendment 150A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. I am sure the noble Baroness knows that local authorities already have the power to set 20 mph speed limits where local needs and conditions suggest that it is required—for example, in a built-up area or near a school. The Government agree with her that 20 mph speed limits can be a useful tool to improve road safety and reduce air pollution, as acknowledged in the Department for Transport’s guidance for local authorities on local speed limits, but they may not be the solution everywhere. Imposed in the wrong places, lower speed limits may increase congestion and journey times, which may in turn increase PM2.5 emissions.

The noble Baroness is right to focus on non-exhaust emissions; we accept the need to reduce them and have legally binding emission reduction targets, including for particulate matter. Non-exhaust particulate matter emissions have become more significant, as emissions from exhausts and other sources, such as coal power stations, have decreased—and this is a phenomenon identified by a number of noble Lords.

The Government are also working with their international partners to develop procedures to test and evaluate emissions from tyre and brake wear, with the potential to produce future regulatory standards. To reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and my noble friend Lord Lucas, in February, the Department for Transport commenced a significant research project to understand better the measurement techniques, materials, properties and control parameters of brake and tyre wear emissions from road vehicles.

On the general subject of more research needing to be done, I shall write to the noble Baroness, because I think that there is more that we can say to both noble Lords about what the department is doing in this area.

It is therefore appropriate to allow local authorities, working with air quality partners such as Highways England, to determine whether lower speed restrictions are appropriate locally. Schedule 11 to this Bill strengthens the local air quality management framework by increasing joint working between local authorities and relevant public authorities for precisely this purpose. The Government will shortly consult on designation of the first of these relevant public authorities, Highways England.

In addition, last year, the Government announced their plans to implement the moving traffic enforcement powers in Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. This will enable local authorities in England with civil parking enforcement powers to take responsibility for enforcement of moving traffic offences. This can include enforcement of no entry, banned turns, access restrictions, box junctions and cycle lanes, but also includes idling. Although we encourage local authorities to make use of the powers available to them, which include issuing fixed penalty notices, this issue will not simply be resolved through fining. Local authorities, as existing guidance makes clear, should utilise a range of methods to encourage motorists to change their behaviour, including public information campaigns. The Government continue to invest in infrastructure for active travel, including a £2 billion fund for cycling and walking. An additional £200 million was allocated in the previous financial year as part of the Covid-19 active travel fund.

I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was a little churlish about Boris Johnson’s initiatives while he was mayor. He did introduce the Routemaster bus and Boris bikes, and he also introduced potted plants, which may have had a little bit of an effect. I just defend him on that front.

We hope that this investment will enable and encourage people to switch from polluting methods of transport such as private cars to cleaner, greener and healthier transport modes such as cycling and walking, which we hope that all noble Lords will welcome. The solution to less air pollution from traffic is less traffic, not just slower-moving traffic.

On Amendments 151A and 151B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and Amendment 155, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, we need to be careful not to be too prescriptive. Local authorities are required to review and assess local air quality and decide what action to take based on local needs. The Government already have a national network of 533 air quality monitoring sites across the UK, which measure air pollutants, operated by the Environment Agency. I hope that that gives some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. It is not possible to monitor in every location, as this would be prohibitively expensive, so modelling enables assessment of air quality in locations without monitoring stations, allowing more effective investment on implementing policies that will deliver air quality improvements. Local authorities are already required to make their air quality action plans freely available, and they are advised in statutory guidance to do so on their website, as requested by the amendment from the noble Baroness. Specifically on Amendment 155 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, my noble friend the Minister has previously set out the Government’s action on provision of air quality information, including our daily air quality index.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for also tabling Amendment 154. The Government agree that action is needed on air quality, and I reassure noble Lords that the Bill includes several measures to achieve this. In this Bill, the Government are committing to set a new national concentration target for PM2.5 under Clause 2, as this is the pollutant that has the most significant impact on health. We will also set a second ambitious target to reduce the exposure of the population to PM2.5 on an ongoing basis through our long-term air quality target, which must be set under Clause 1.

As my noble friend the Minister has already set out in this Committee, we are taking account of the World Health Organization’s guidance on this matter when setting air quality targets, and will continue to do so, but we simply do not yet know the policies that will be required to meet the WHO’s guidance level for PM2.5, especially in London. Therefore, we do not believe it is appropriate to set such a target, which would affect millions of people’s daily lives, without first levelling with them about the choices and changes that will be required as a result.

Turning to Amendment 153 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and Amendments 156A to 156M—which I recall the noble Lord, Lord Tope, tabled as a Private Member’s Bill last year—I want to reassure the House that there is already a local air quality management framework in place which we are strengthening through this Bill. Under the current framework, local authorities already have a duty to monitor and assess air quality and to reduce pollution where statutory limits and local air quality objectives are breached. The Environment Bill strengthens this framework by fundamentally broadening the range of bodies required to co-operate with local authorities to improve local air quality and strengthens requirements for local air quality action plans—for example, it requires clear dates by when measures will be taken and provides an action plan if further measures need to be taken to secure air quality objectives.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, specifically mentioned nitrogen oxide and particulate matter for generators. We introduced specified generator controls which require new generators to meet nitrogen oxide emission limits from January 2019. Additionally, since 2019, operators of existing diesel generators which may pose a risk to local air quality have been required to hold an environment permit and comply with permit conditions to protect local air quality. Other existing generators will be subject to emission limits from 2025 or 2030, depending on their size.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked specifically about vulnerable populations, particularly children and those with health conditions. While targeted action can be taken, for instance around schools, children will also be exposed at home, when travelling and during other activities. Action focused on vulnerable groups needs to be part of a much wider programme of action. In the Bill, the Government have committed to reviewing and updating the air quality strategy within 12 months of the measures coming into force and every five years thereafter. We will use this review to consider whether local air quality standards and objectives for a range of pollutants need to be revised.

I highlight that local authorities already have several levers to improve air quality in their areas. They can declare air quality management areas and smoke control areas—which are strengthened by this Bill—to tackle emissions from domestic burning and can implement clean air zones, supported by funds from central government. In summary, more legislation may not necessarily be the answer, but rather targeted new measures and greater collaboration with local authorities to ensure they use their full powers to crack down on air pollution. The Environment Bill has been designed with this in mind.

We also know that funding for our local authorities is key, which is why our air quality grant scheme has awarded nearly £70 million to local authorities over its lifetime. Recent examples include projects to deliver electric cargo bikes in Colchester, reducing air pollution from deliveries in York, electric taxis in Slough and retrofitting double-decker buses in Brighton. We have also funded the retrofit of thousands of buses across the country through the clean bus technology fund, including in Gateshead, Essex, Oxford, Coventry, the West Midlands, Manchester and Liverpool.

On non-road mobile machinery, including construction equipment, generators and so on, there are already emissions standards that such machinery must comply with before it is sold. I am sure your Lordships are also aware that the Bill contains measures to allow the Government to compel manufacturers to recall non-road mobile machinery that does not meet the relevant environmental standards.

I hope the detail I have set out about the Government’s existing air quality regulatory framework and the improvements we are making through the Environment Bill, in addition to the significant funding provided by the Government directly to local authorities, enabling locally led solutions to air quality problems, provides some reassurance. I am obviously happy to learn of the success of Wales in introducing traffic-calming measures, particularly in Cardiff, my home town, and I was also interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, correctly identifying concerns about the capacity of green electricity as we increase our use of electric cars. The Government have been addressing this through myriad proposals in the 10-point plan and the energy White Paper. On that basis, I ask her to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:30 pm, 5th July 2021

I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I call the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I would be very grateful if the Minister—in writing if not immediately—could let me know what steps the Government have taken or intend to take to enable local action in this area? My particular concern, as ever, is the town of Eastbourne. We are told from time to time that our air quality is bad; we are never told why. What support can the Government offer for properly testing the air pollution we are said to have, so that we can have a proper diagnosis of where it is coming from and therefore direct our local efforts accurately at dealing with it?

Similarly, the current system for trying to get speed limits moved to 20 miles per hour is very time-consuming and difficult and imposes a lot of burdens on the higher county authority. Is there not some simpler way in which an expression of local will might convert into something happening without the need for deep, long consultations? This is a matter of policy and of the direction we want to take a community in. It really should not have to justify itself at every cobblestone.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am grateful to my noble friend. I think I answered in general terms how much the Bill enables greater local action on air pollution by improving local air quality management frameworks and ensuring that responsibility for addressing air pollution is shared across local government structures and other relevant public authorities. If I can offer him more detail, I commit to writing to him. On that last subject, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked two questions that I failed to answer: traffic management in Northern Ireland is a devolved issue and I would of course be very happy to meet the noble Baroness to discuss further matters.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, reflecting on the Minister’s response to my noble friend on the current Prime Minister’s record on air pollution, would she acknowledge that it was the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who in February 2008 unveiled the plans for the London cycle hire scheme? Will she also acknowledge that the New Bus for London, commonly known as the “Boris bus”, had complete battery failure in 80 models, meaning that they only ever operated in diesel-only mode and emitted 74% more harmful particles than the old diesel buses they replaced?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Ken Livingstone may well have had the original idea, but it was certainly Boris who breathed life into the whole project. I think the new buses were much better than the old Routemaster, and I do not think one can blame him for trying to reduce emissions in London.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken in support of 20’s Plenty. It has been much appreciated. I know it has not been discussed in this House much before, if at all; it is a new concept but I think it is a really worthy one. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, did not feel able to express his support, but I hope in time to convert him to the cause.

I found the Minister’s response disappointing and complacent. Air pollution is such a devastating killer, and it is not a pleasant way to pass away—particularly in light of the compelling and chilling evidence from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who speaks with huge knowledge in these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, had already asked about the Minister’s assertion about 30 mph limits being in place and the opportunity for local authorities to change that to 20 mph. That is exactly the situation we are trying to reverse; it is complicated and costly, et cetera, and it would be far better to have a default limit of 20 mph and for local authorities to have the power to change it to 30 mph or whatever speed limit they think appropriate.

The Minister also asserted that we are looking for less traffic, not slower traffic. The point is that all the evidence shows there is less traffic in areas with 20 mph speed limits, because people are more willing to switch to walking and cycling when traffic around them is calmer. These 20 mph limits are really popular. The national attitude survey on transport shows that substantially more than two thirds of the public are in favour of this. The Atkins report also showed the public were in favour.

I think the Minister was referring to the Atkins report when she said there was evidence that, in some areas, 20 mph limits can lead to higher casualty rates. That report has been challenged extensively, and I believe the 20’s Plenty campaign group wrote to the Government to say it was concerned about some of the report’s findings and to ask what evidence the Government could provide on the use they made of the various comparators in particular. The group has yet to have a reply from the Government; maybe this is an opportunity for it to receive that reply, which would be much appreciated.

The 20 mph limit is popular, practical, cheap and affordable, and there are numerous bodies of evidence to support the social and environmental benefits it would bring. It would be a bold step; it would help tackle climate change and public health issues at a single stroke. I hope the Government will take the amendment seriously, but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 150A withdrawn.

Schedule 11: Local Air Quality Management Framework