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Winter Air Quality

Volume 702: debated on Thursday 28 October 2021

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the impact of steps taken to improve winter air quality on the health of children and adults who are vulnerable to respiratory disease. (903867)

We know that air pollution is a particular threat to vulnerable groups. We continue to drive forward the ambitious actions in the clean air strategy, such as phasing out the sale of house coal for domestic burning. The Environment Bill also makes a clear commitment to set targets for fine particulate matter, which is the pollutant of most concern for human health. We are working across Government, including with the Department of Health and Social Care, which has overall responsibility for respiratory diseases, to address actions on air pollution.

Research in 2014 and 2016 by King’s College London and Imperial College London recorded 1,000 hospital admissions a year among those with pre-existing respiratory conditions. In 2018, King’s College London found that as many as 36,000 people a year die early due to air pollution. When will the Government stop tinkering around the edges and finally introduce legally binding limits to abide by the World Health Organisation’s stricter clean air standards?

We need to get those targets right. In the Environment Bill, which should be back in this place shortly, we have committed to setting a target, but it is important that we get the evidence right to set the right targets. Those targets will be based on evidence. We are currently reviewing the air quality strategy. We will be looking at a revised strategy in 2023. The PM2 target is on a population basis. We also need the population exposure targets so that in areas such as hers, where we know that there are hotter spots, we can work directly with local authorities—we all own this challenge—to get the right targeted measure in the right areas. The overall target is important, but so are those targeted, individual approaches.

As you know, Mr Speaker, in Newcastle-under-Lyme we suffer with poor air quality from the odorous emissions of Walleys Quarry, which have had a serious impact on respiratory disease. That includes the case of the five-year-old boy, Mathew Richards, who won his judicial review against the Environment Agency. Does the Minister share my concern that the Environment Agency has frustrated attempts by investigators to access the public register? Does she agree that it must be open to having the register inspected by those trying to get to the bottom of how this scandalous situation has been allowed to develop?

My hon. Friend and I have already had several discussions on this matter. I hope to have a further meeting with him next week and to visit the site shortly. As part of permitting the regular inspection process, the Environment Agency considers the existing concentration of relevant pollutants in the area surrounding such challenges and, if air quality levels are exceeded because of those impacts, a lower limit can be set by a local authority. We should try to be transparent, but, in these complex matters, we must try to take on board the needs of constituents while driving the right conclusions to sort out this difficult problem.

City of York’s Lib Dem/Green council—Oh, the irony of it—is instituting six new car parks in our city centre. As a result, there will be a further threat to people’s lives, particularly with regard to respiratory conditions, given the already challenged air quality. What discussions is the Minister having with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure that councils do not put new car parks in their planning?

There are many local initiatives going on. The nitrogen dioxide plan, which I spoke about earlier, is the key to driving down emissions, and we are working with the Department for Transport on that. People using their cars less in the city centre and the promotion of cycling and walking in a beautiful city such as York would obviously enhance the city for all its tourists. I am sure that the city of York, the tourist board and indeed everybody would be pleased to see that.