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Air Quality

Volume 609: debated on Thursday 5 May 2016

3. What recent progress her Department has made on reducing levels of air pollution; and what targets she has set for air quality in 2016. (904819)

Air quality is improving. Since 2010, emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by 17%. We will further improve air quality through a new programme of clean air zones, alongside investment in clean technologies.

Elephant and Castle, in my constituency, has the worst air quality in south London. Air pollution has a proven impact on people’s health and life expectancy. Nearly 9,500 people die each year in London due to poor air quality, which is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), a candidate for London Mayor, is planning to consult on bringing forward and expanding the ultra-low emission zone if he wins today. He knows London cannot wait. Why is the Environment Secretary waiting for a judicial review to force her to develop a comprehensive strategy for the whole country?

The fact is that it is my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) who has made cleaner air a priority of his mayoral campaign. He has a long-standing record of talking about environmental issues, unlike his opponent. The Government have set out a very clear plan for clean air zones right across the country to deal with this issue. We are prepared to mandate those zones to ensure we are in line with World Health Organisation limits.

DEFRA’s plan says that local authority action is critical to achieving improvements in air quality. On this local elections day, will the Secretary of State tell us what resources she will provide to struggling councils to do that, given that her Department has cut payments to councils under the air quality grant scheme by nearly 80% since 2010? Will she give councils the powers they need to tackle this problem, not just in the five cities but wherever people are suffering—in some cases, even dying—because the air is not clean enough for them to breathe?

We absolutely have given powers to all cities that want to implement a clean air zone. They are fully able to do that. We will also assist with funding for the five cities projected to be above the WHO limit of 40 mg of nitrogen oxide. We are working with those local authorities at the moment. We need to ensure the zones are in the right place so that the problem does not get moved from one part of the city to another. The resources will be available for those local authorities to put that in place.