Housing: Construction

Communities and Local Government written question – answered on 13th June 2007.

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Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what consideration has been given to ways of decreasing the potential damage to health from small particle emissions in housing developments near roads.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I have been asked to reply.

Health based air quality standards have been set both at a domestic and EU level on a range of air pollutants, including particulate matter. Action to improve air quality is underway across Government at national, international and local levels.

The introduction of the "Euro" series of progressively tighter emission standards has been underway since 1992, and has drastically lowered the permitted limits for particulate matter emission from new diesel vehicles. This has been complemented by improvements in product standards for petrol and diesel, which have lowered the permitted amounts of certain pollutant-forming substances in these fuels. Further "Euro" vehicle emission standards, with even tighter emission limits for particles, are due to be introduced between now and 2014. This is supported by other Government action, including the promotion of cleaner, less polluting fuel and vehicle technologies.

Local authorities are also taking forward their duty to review and assess air quality in their areas against objectives for a range of pollutants. If there is a likely chance of failure in meeting any of these objectives, an authority is required to declare an Air Quality Management Area and take forward action plans within its remit to address the problem. Such action is progressed in coordination with other agencies, including the Highways Agency and Environment Agency.

The content of action plans varies from one authority to another, and depends upon the sources of the pollutants of concern. However, common elements where emissions from roads are a particular problem include:

(i) A commitment to working closely with the Highways Agency on possible emissions reduction measures where trunk roads are major local sources of pollutants;

(ii) Local traffic management measures to limit access to, or re-route traffic away from, problem areas. Low emission zones are a possible solution that some authorities have been looking at in this context;

(iii) Commitment to developing green travel plans and/or to using cleaner-fuelled vehicles in the authority's own fleet;

(iv) A strategy for informing members of the public about air quality issues, via local newsletters or other media;

(v) Quality partnerships with bus or fleet operators to deliver cleaner, quieter vehicles in return for the provision of better bus lanes or more flexible delivery arrangements; and

(vi) local walking and cycling strategies.

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Simon Birkett
Posted on 15 Jun 2007 7:42 pm (Report this annotation)

To the Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt and Anne Snelgrove

Your Question and the Minister of State's Statement on air quality are to be welcomed.

The Minister of State has highlighted some useful background to the legislative framework for air quality and listed several "Inputs" that may be adopted by local authorities as part of their action plans to improve air quality.

The Campaign for Clean Air in London wrote recently to David Miliband, Secretary of State at Defra, asking him to accept the need for the European Court of Justice to take enforcement action against the United Kingdom (and some 20 other Member States) for breaching European Union (EU) legal limits for particulate matter (so called PM10) in 2005 (and subsequently for 2006 and already 2007). No derogations or time extensions are allowed from meeting these EU legal limits (or "exceedances") that have been in legislation since 1999.

The letter dated 11 June 2007 sent in reply on behalf of the Secretary of State commented that:

"Concerning exceedances of EU limits for PM10, building on our previous correspondence with you on this matter, we are satisfied that local authorities and the Mayor of London are working hard towards meeting the challenging air quality standards for PM10. The revised UK Air Quality Strategy and new vehicle emission standards will act as further drivers towards the achievement of limit values in all locations, and we will continue our efforts in this area."

Several further points are worth mentioning:

(i) there is substantial evidence that the air quality problem in the UK is getting worse, not better, despite statutory legal duties on relevant authorities to work towards meeting these limits. To illustrate this point, pollution monitoring stations showed that those UK cities that had breached the EU legal limits for PM10 in 2005 did so to a greater extent in 2006 and they were joined by other UK cities for the first time in 2006 (for further details, please see a previous comment by me on the TWFY website). Warmer weather is no excuse when we expect temperatures to increase further as a result of climate change;

(ii) "Outputs" (such as actual measured levels of air quality and the number of estimated premature deaths) are much more important and relevant than "Inputs";

(iii) as far as we are aware, no public commitment on "Output" targets has been made by the Government or any of the responsible authorities and in particular no timetable has been proposed or estimated yet by the Government for the current EU legal limits for air quality to be met throughout the UK;

(iv) poor air quality has Non-traffic and Traffic causes. The latter is related to the number of vehicle kilometres and the average emissions from vehicles. The average emissions per vehicle depends on the size of engines and their efficiency (e.g. Euro emission standards). Emission standards on their own, that are emphasised by the Minister of State, are part only therefore of the solution. Diesel engines are a particular problem in that while they produce up to 17% less carbon dioxide they produce more than 65% each of the hazardous particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide than petrol engines;

(v) despite Euro 4 engines producing around half only of the hazardous emissions of Euro 3 engines, and the fact that this technology is "certain" and the vehicles have been on sale since 2006, we have seen no sign yet that the Government is incentivising people to move rapidly to these cleaner engines (or away substantially from diesel engines in large cities). You may be aware that the New York Times commented earlier this year that, in Los Angeles, the worst 10% polluting vehicles are estimated to generate about half the total air pollution;

(vi) where local authorities, like the Mayor of London, are introducing measures such as the Low Emission Zone from 2008 to reduce emissions these are limited, in effect, to the particulate matter only element of Euro 3 and then Euro 4 emission standards (i.e there is no need say to meet the key Euro 4 emission standards for nitrogen dioxide) in part at least because the Government has not provided clear guidance on technology and testing standards for the abatement of nitrogen dioxide from earlier engines to meet these Euro 4 (particularly) standards. Given the substantial reduction in air pollution from Euro 4 engines, it is vital that the whole standard is required to be met urgently, through the use of Euro 4 engines and/or effective abatement measures approved by the Government, if air quality is to be improved in London;

(vii) a new EU Directive on Air pollution is due to have its second reading on 13 December 2007. In the first reading, the European Parliament voted shockingly to postpone the date for meeting EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide from the current date of January 2010 until January 2014 without conditions (and possibly to January 2015 if implementation of the new Directive is delayed from 2007 to 2008). It also voted to allow possible postponements for EU legal limits for PM10 from 2005 (see above) to 2014 or 2015! Such delays are relevant for those planning airport and other infrastructure expansion and those worried about the potenital impact of these projects;

(viii) environmental justice, not least at the heart of any Environmental Contract, must deliver urgently free access to clean air of acceptable quality to all citizens not just for those for whom it is easy to achieve;

(ix) when Sir Nicholas Stern, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Air Quality Expert Group have all highlighted the need to treat air pollution holistically (and the Canadians are talking about a "Clean Air and Climate Change Act" instead of the UK’s proposed "Climate Change (only) Bill", why is it that Defra still has one Minister of State responsible for Climate Change and another one responsible for Air Quality? When too will the Government commit to treat air pollution holistically in its Climate Change legislation?; and

(x) in recognition of the problems that the Government seems to be having in meeting its EU legal obligations for air quality, and of the promises to deliver the Greenest Games in modern times, the Campaign for Clean Air in London has suggested that the London 2012 Summer Olympics should be committed to as being the latest time by which at least World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended standards of air quality should be achieved sustainably throughout London (in practice these are the same as EU legal limits). That would be a great and tangible legacy for London and the UK.

The bottom line is that Londoners and many other UK citizens need to see ambitious, prioritised action rapidly that results measurably in sharply improving air quality. We have seen no tangible sign yet that the Government has the political will necessary to play its part in helping London to deliver urgently the necessary improvements in air quality.

Please see the full text of our letter to David Miliband:


Simon Birkett
Principal Contact
Campaign for Clean Air in London


(Simon can be contacted via the campaign website)