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Air Pollution

Volume 667: debated on Thursday 31 October 2019

May I add my fond goodbyes, Mr Speaker? I will forever remember, as a Back Bencher, waiting and bobbing and finally being woken up and called by you saying, “Rebec-Kerpow!” I will always remember that, although you probably did not realise you had said it.

The Environment Bill includes measures to improve air quality, which will ensure that local authorities have a clear framework and simple-to-use powers to tackle air pollution. DEFRA and the Department for Transport’s joint air quality unit works closely with local authorities, underpinned by £572 million in funding, to tackle nitrogen dioxide exceedances. More than £3 million in air quality grant funding was awarded to local authorities in March for projects in local communities.

Mr Speaker, may I first thank you on behalf of many of us for the role you have played in ensuring that this elected House calls the Executive to account with such fervour? Also, could you turn your attention to the bag that is in the cupboard in your office, which requires your signature so I can use it as a raffle prize?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We know that the ultra low emission zone in central London has been a huge success, bringing about a 36% reduction in nitrogen dioxide pollution in London. Does the Minister not agree that it is vital that the Government support the Mayor of London in his efforts to tackle air pollution, and will she please support the expansion of the ULEZ in 2021?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. London faces specific challenges, not least because the size and complexity of the capital’s transport network is quite different from others, and the commitment of the Mayor and the Greater London Assembly to tackle air quality in the capital is absolutely welcomed. The Mayor has received a comprehensive funding settlement for dealing with air quality, to the tune of £5 billion, which includes measures to tackle the nitrogen dioxide limits.

May I wish you well in your retirement, Mr Speaker?

Air quality has been worked on across Government, across Departments and across local government, so can we be assured that all parts of the Government will do everything they can to get everybody working together to monitor air quality, get more electric cars and actually do something about the quality of air across the whole of our country, especially in the hotspots?

The Chairman of the Select Committee makes a very good point. Air quality is an absolute priority because it affects human health. We already have the clean air strategy, but in the Environment Bill we are putting through much clearer and simpler powers for local authorities to actually use their duties to tackle air quality, and we will see many more of these charging zones coming in over the next year. As the Minister in charge of air quality, I will ensure that these are tackled as fast as possible.

13. Bad planning is leading to more and more ill-thought-through developments in the heart of York, resulting in the poor air quality in our city worsening. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that planning departments in local government really comprehend the consequences of their actions? (900259)

Tackling air quality is closely linked to what happens in the planning system, particularly when it comes to housing. Officials in the two Departments have recently collaborated on developing planning guidance. I recently wrote to Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministers to urge much closer collaboration on, for example, housing and housing design, because all the emissions from housing affect climate change. This is all about cross-working.

Parts of Chatham suffer from high levels of air pollution. Medway Council is doing what it can to tackle it, but I am working with a school that sits right on a very busy road to develop a green wall to reduce some of the air pollution specifically for children. What work is the Minister doing with the Department for Education to support schools to provide their own green solutions to tackle air pollution?

That question is of great interest to me as a former horticultural journalist. Green walls are a great thing. Not only do they look great, but they help by taking in carbon emissions and so on. DEFRA has an air quality grant programme that can help local authorities to fund projects to tackle air pollution in specific areas like schools, so that school could ask for support under the programme. Good question.

On my last day in the Chair, it gives me particular pleasure again to call—Bambos Charalambous!

One of the things that I will certainly miss when you are not in the Chair is how you pronounce my name, Mr Speaker. Thank you so much.

Why does the Environment Bill not include World Health Organisation targets for air pollutants or set clear targets to meet them?

Air quality targets are included in the Bill, but we already have an ambition in the clear air strategy. Reaching the target for particulate matter 2.5 is an absolute priority, but the actual target will be set in secondary legislation after expert advice has been taken on exactly how to do that. I met one of the heads of the WHO just last week, and she agreed that that is the right way of doing things, because this is tricky, and we must get it right.