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Air Quality Strategy

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

The Air Quality Strategy will be laid before Parliament and published today.

Government are committed to delivering cleaner air to protect people’s health and the environment. Protecting and improving air quality is a key objective for DEFRA and the devolved Administrations.

Our national Air Quality Strategy, last published in 2000 with an Addendum in 2003, contained policies for improving air quality and set standards and objectives for the main pollutants of concern to be met between 2003 and 2010 and beyond.

The quality of our air in the United Kingdom has improved considerably over the last few decades, and much has been achieved through implementation of tighter controls over emissions of harmful pollutants from industry, transport and domestic sectors. These measures have helped to reduce by many thousands the numbers of people dying prematurely and being admitted to hospital as a result of air pollution. We are now meeting the strategy’s objectives for four of the pollutants throughout the UK and meeting all the strategy’s objectives in most parts of the country, although not at some hotspot problem areas, such as along some busy roads and in some cities.

But air pollution still has a significant impact and is estimated to reduce the life expectancy of every person in the UK by an average of seven to eight months, with estimated annual health costs of up to £20 billion. It can also seriously damage our ecosystems.

Over the last year or so an extensive review of the strategy was undertaken to examine what more might be done. This review has involved one of the most comprehensive environmental analyses ever carried out by the Government. stakeholders were closely involved at each stage of the review, both in forming and responding to the official consultation process last year.

The new Air Quality Strategy, which I am publishing today in partnership with the devolved Administrations, draws conclusions from the consultation. It sets out a way forward for work and planning on air quality issues, sets out details of the objectives to be achieved and introduces a new policy framework for tackling fine particles, similar to the approach being proposed in the new European air quality directive, which is currently under negotiation. The strategy also identifies new measures which modelling shows could help achieve significant health benefits and help us move closer towards meeting our targets. These measures have been subject to a thorough analysis of the estimated reductions in air pollution, and quantification and valuation of costs and benefits.

The strategy’s policies have been considered for their impact on climate change, and there are many co-benefits that can be achieved. Over the longer-term, policies to address both climate change and air pollution emissions together can potentially deliver further significant improvements air quality and public health.

The strategy recognises the important role for industry, transport and local authorities in helping to deliver air quality improvements. It also follows the better regulation agenda for adopting the most effective ways of delivering outcomes without placing unnecessary costs on those who are regulated.

We will now start the process for detailed consideration of the potential new measures to develop them further and co-ordinate and align with other policy measures yet to be implemented. Each new measure will be subject to the full policy scrutiny process and formal impact assessment. I will continue to keep the House informed about these and other air quality developments.