The Government has today launched two consultations on proposals to make it easier for local authorities to tackle poor air quality in their areas. This builds on wider action to tackle air quality, including the recent announcement of £11.6m for local authorities to deliver projects to improve air quality and the recent launch of a consultation on targets under the Environment Act – including ambitious targets on PM2.5, the pollutant that is most harmful to human health.
The first seeks views on increased engagement between local authorities and the communities that they serve, and an increased focus on the impact of air quality on people’s health. Reduced exposure to air pollution will prevent thousands of cases of heart disease, strokes, asthma and lung cancers – and will reduce health inequalities between and within communities, an important part of the Government’s levelling up agenda.
The consultation will also look at the stronger requirements introduced in the Environment Act 2021 for other organisations to collaborate with local authorities in delivering Air Quality Action Plans (AQAPs).
Local authorities have a legal obligation to monitor, assess and act to improve local air quality if the objectives in their action plans are not met. The statutory Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) guidance being consulted on from today helps them improve the way they do this by outlining the various elements they should consider in these plans to ensure their overall air quality objectives are achieved.
The Act also gives the Environment Secretary the power to designate, subject to consultation, “relevant public authorities” who must play a role in improving local air quality. The second consultation proposes to designate National Highways in order to ensure more consistent collaboration with local authorities to reduce road pollution.
These two measures are designed to significantly contribute to the successful implementation of AQAPs and ensure air quality standards are met in our communities.
Environment Minister Jo Churchill said:
“Air quality is our priority, and these consultations will build on a swathe of other actions that we are already taking to help local authorities clean up our air.
“We all want to see improved air quality in every part of our country, helping health outcomes and reducing health inequalities between and within communities. Coupled with recent funding announcements and our consultation on air quality targets under the Environment Act, we will drive forward long-lasting change to the air we breathe.”
If it is subsequently designated a relevant public authority, National Highways will have to commit to measures to help bring roads back into compliance wherever transport using a major highway has contributed to local air quality limits being exceeded. These measures will then be included in AQAPs.
The revised LAQM guidance will ensure better cooperation between local authorities and the government, increased consideration of air quality disparities, better promotion of air quality awareness and engagement, and the consideration of links between air quality and climate change.
Local authorities have a central role in improving air quality, as their local knowledge and interaction with their communities leave them best placed to identify issues on the ground and provide solutions that are appropriate for their area. In our 2019 Clean Air Strategy, the Government committed to driving greater local action on air pollution by ensuring the responsibilities for improving local air quality sat with local government.
These consultations deliver on that commitment by ensuring greater cooperation at a local level and broadening the range of organisations that play a role in improving local air quality.