EPUK Statement on the Government’s National Plan for NO2

 In Air Quality, EPUK News

EPUK Statement on the Government’s National Plan for NO2

Although we welcome some of the measures and funding set out in the government’s new National Plan to tackle air pollution, it is very disappointing that it did to go further. It is clear that it needs greater ambition and faster implementation, in more places, with a wider focus, in order to protect human health.

A long term commitment for phasing out the sales of conventional diesel and petrol cars will not solve the immediate widespread public health crisis (and the intervening 23 years to 2040 will result in another entire generation exposed to poor air). This commitment is 15 years later than similar measures being considered in Norway and the Netherlands, and earlier this month a major car manufacturer committed to stop producing conventionally-fuelled cars by 2019.

Air pollution is already a public health crisis. Government statistics indicate that the effects of exposure to nitrogen dioxide alone on mortality is equivalent to 23,500 deaths annually in the United Kingdom; that is, on average, more than 64 deaths each day of the year. Other pollutants increase these impacts further. Air pollution is estimated to cost at least £20 billion a year in the UK (and more if the total morbidity costs are included).

National modelling has identified a number of roads where EU NO2 limit values are exceeded, and the Plan focuses on these. However, the government’s own Local Air Quality Management system is based on sound scientific evidence, air pollution monitoring, and includes local sources and conditions which are too detailed to be covered in the overview modelling. This identifies over 500 Air Quality Management Areas, in England alone, where NO2 pollution exceeds its legal limits.

The National Plan needs focused direct action by the national government. The sheer number of cities, towns, and even villages, with air pollution problems shows that this is a local manifestation of a national problem. Taking action in just a few cities will not solve the problem. Even the NICE guidelines on Clean Air Zones has been ignored. The National Plan appears to delegate the whole matter to local authorities, at a time of immense pressure on funding, staffing and expertise.

An effective national plan must include actions from all levels of government, including national, regional and local; and all these parties must work together to identify and implement the most effective way to achieve the limit values to protect human health in as short a time as possible. Taking piece-meal action across the country, and not addressing other pollutants, such as particulates, ozone, primary NO2 and carbon dioxide, will not provide value for money in delivering clean air and the associated health benefits.

The government needs to ensure that clean air is a political priority at all levels of government (and all departments). There should be clear strategic thinking, and a clear national narrative for action to protect and enhance human health through clean air, led by national Government, which is supported with further targeted work at a local level. If clean air is not regarded as a priority, there will only be token projects, with far more damage done when air quality is not considered in planning, transport, health, fiscal measures, etc.

The government highlights a number of initiatives including Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles, Buses, and the National Productivity Investment Fund, to demonstrate their commitment to clean air. But none of these programmes are optimised for air quality. They do not focused on the locations with greatest pollution and exposure.  There are a wide range of other Government initiatives which affect air quality, including planning policy, transport, health and HM Treasury’s work. These must be optimized to improve air quality, by targeting areas of high pollution, and addressing and avoiding trade-offs that have adverse impacts of air pollution.

Further information can be found in our response to the Government’s consultation to their National Plan (2017).

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