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Four select committees unite to investigate air quality

Mark Moran
20 March 2017

MPs from four select committees have combined forces to launch what they call an “unprecedented” joint inquiry on air quality to scrutinise cross-government plans to tackle urban pollution hotspots.

The Environmental Audit, Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Health and Transport committees will hold four evidence sessions to consider mounting scientific evidence on the health and environmental impacts of outdoor air pollution.

Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Transport Select Committee, said: “The UK economy depends on an efficient and flexible transport system but emissions from vehicles are a significant problem and the standards that governments have relied on have not delivered the expected reductions. We will be asking what more can be done to increase the use of cleaner vehicles as well as to encourage the use of sustainable modes of transport.”

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the Health Committee said: “Poor air quality is affecting on the health of millions of people across the UK because of the impact of invisible particulates and other pollutants. Our joint inquiry will include an examination of the scale of the harm caused and the action necessary to tackle it.”

The government has lost two UK court cases about its plans to tackle the key pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The High Court has ordered the government to publish a draft new clean air plan to tackle NO2 by 24 April, with a final plan by 31 July.

Poor air quality is believes to contribute to the early deaths of some 40,000 people in the UK each year. The European Commission has also threatened enforcement that could see the UK pay millions of pounds in fines if the government does not within two months take steps to bring 16 UK zones within legal pollution limits.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee said: “The UK courts have twice told the government to raise its game to clean up our filthy air because of European Union legislation. My committee has repeatedly pressed Ministers on their plans for improving air quality as we leave the EU; we hope that the new air quality plan, and this unique joint inquiry, will give us more clarity.”

MPs will examine whether revised government plans required by the courts to be published by 24 April will go far enough to cut pollution, not only to meet legal limits but also to deliver maximum health and environmental benefits.

Neil Parish MP, chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: “The solutions to cleaning up our air are not the responsibility of just one minister. That’s why we have taken the unprecedented task of convening four select committees so we can scrutinise the Government’s efforts from every angle and look for holistic solutions that are good for health, transport and the environment.”

The committees will be considering the following questions:

  • How effectively do government policies take account of the health and environmental impacts of poor air quality?
  • Are the government's revised plans for tackling nitrogen dioxide levels sufficient to meet the High Court and European Commission requirements for urgent action?
  • Does the revised plan set out effective and proportionate measures for reducing emissions from transport?
  • Is there sufficient cross-government collaboration to ensure the right fiscal and policy incentives are adopted to ensure air quality targets are achieved?

The committees are inviting stakeholders to make written submissions by 5pm on Friday 12 May.

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