Skip to main content

Committees call for a new Clean Air Act

15 March 2018

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees publish their joint report on improving air quality. The unprecedented joint inquiry was launched amid concerns over the inadequacy of the Government's plan to improve air quality in the UK, as demonstrated by a series of successful judicial challenges in recent years.

The report from an unprecedented four-way inquiry calls for a new Clean Air Act, a clean air fund financed by the transport industry, a national air quality support programme for councils, and for the Government to require manufacturers to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars earlier than the current 2040 target. 

Report conclusions

  • Air pollution is a national health emergency resulting in an estimated 40,000 early deaths each year, costing the UK £20 billion annually. It is unacceptable that successive governments have failed to protect the public from poisonous air.
  • Despite a series of court cases, the Government has still not produced a plan that adequately addresses the scale of the challenge. Nor has it demonstrated the national leadership needed to bring about a step change in how the problem of air quality is tackled.
  • The Government's approach is more concerned with box-ticking and demonstrating compliance than taking bold, affirmative action.

Report recommendations

  • Place the protection of public health and the environment, rather than technical compliance or political convenience, at the centre of air quality policy
  • require the automobile industry to contribute to a new clean air fund, following the 'polluter pays' principle
  • bring forward the date by which manufacturers must end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars, in line with more ambitious commitments from around the world
  • introduce a Clean Air Act to improve existing legislation and enshrine the right to clean air in UK law
  • initiate a national health campaign to highlight the dangers of air pollution, including the fact that air quality can be far worse inside a vehicle than on the street
  • widen the 2017 plan “to offer direction, financial resources, and technical support to the 45 local authority areas which breach NO2 limit levels but are not included under the current action framework”;
  • align climate change schemes, urban planning, public transport and fiscal incentives with air quality goals to prevent Government policy from working at cross-purposes
  • take greater account of the costs of air pollution when establishing taxation and spending policy
  • ensure that [electric] charging infrastructure addresses strategic needs and prioritises air quality hotspots.

Chair's comments

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said:

"The Government's latest plan does not present an effective response to the scale of the air quality catastrophe in the UK. We are concerned that the Government is treating air quality as a box-ticking exercise. Real change will require bold, meaningful action. We are calling on Government to develop a properly resourced support scheme available to all councils struggling with air quality, and to require manufacturers of polluting vehicles to pay their fair share by contributing to an industry-financed clean air fund".

Andrew Selous MP, acting Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said:

"Poor air quality has been classified as the largest environmental risk to the health of the British public, equating to around 40,000 early deaths every year. It is even more concerning that children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions are most at risk. Action must be taken to combat this national health emergency. Our report calls for the health sector to play a more vocal role in tackling air pollution at a national and local level, and for a national information campaign to provide clear messages about the risks of air pollution to the public."

Lilian Greenwood MP, Chair of the Transport Select Committee, said:

"Transport is the key to improving air quality, but it requires real political leadership and co-ordinated action from the Government and local authorities. The solution isn't just about reducing the pollution each vehicle produces, we also need policies that will reduce our reliance on cars. This requires more urgency, imagination and innovation than is being demonstrated by the Government, local councils or transport service providers."

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said:

"Ministers have failed to address the polluted air in our choking cities. We need a new Clean Air Act to ensure the Government remains accountable for failures to achieve air quality commitments after the UK leaves the EU. The Government must ensure that after Brexit our air quality standards are as good as or better than the level we enjoy as a result of our membership of the EU."

Further information

Image: iStockphoto