Minutes – inaugural APPG meeting

APPG for Air Pollution – Prof Frank Kelly, Matthew Pennycook, ClientEarth, Westminister City Council – Air pollution

Wed, 7 September 2016 | DeHavilland Report – Event

SUMMARY

Speaking at an APPG for Air Pollution event were:

  • Labour MP and Air Pollution APPG Chair Matthew Pennycook
  • Kings College London, Professor of Environmental Health, Prof Frank Kelly
  • ClientEarth, Environmental Lawyer, Alan Andrews
  • Temple Group, Air Quality Principal Consultant, Alaric Lester
  • Westminister City Council, Cabinet Member for Sustainability, Cllr Heather Acton

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Matthew Pennycook

Opening the session, Labour MP Matthew Pennycook welcomed the launch of the air pollution APPG.

He outlined how air pollution had led to a public health crisis and argued that it was an invisible hazard that had resulted in thousands of premature deaths. He further highlighted the need to evoke a legislative approach to tackle this problem.

He stated that the APPG would play a vital role in ensuring “we encourage and support effective action to take the problem and to challenge government and other stakeholders to be more ambitious”.

Professor Frank Kelly

Commencing his remarks, Prof Kelly stated that air in the UK was not at a sufficient quality and raised the question of who held responsibility. He argued no one had taken sufficient responsibility for responding to the issue.

He attributed poor air quality in the UK to surface transport in cities, with increased volumes of cars and buses running on diesel. People had been exposed to air pollution. The problem was only getting worse, he stated.

Adding to this, Professor Kelly argued that by not meeting air quality targets, a major health crisis had formed. He further demonstrated the problems associated with air pollution on populations, such as a wide range of health problems including chronic diseases, poor lung development in children, and the development of degenerative diseases.

He stipulated that solving air pollution would decrease health problems, decrease the burden on the NHS, and prevent the pass of these burdens on to the next generation.

Whilst noting the 1956 Clean Air Act, Professor Kelly called on the need for an updated equivalent to “deal with this modern challenge”.

Alan Andrews

Next, Mr Andrews drew upon the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive in his opening statement, which established the legal right to clean air, and the right to go to court and demand action on air quality.

Mr Andrews described how a Supreme Court ruling in 2015 led to one of the “most important judgements”, stating that the UK was failing to meet NO2 targets, and that the Government was to submit new air quality plans to the European Commission.

The Government did this, Mr Andrews said, but argued plans did not go far enough and put in place the “absolute minimum they can get away with”. For example, the Government had chosen to focus on five cities, despite air pollution being a national problem, Mr Andrews said.

He further noted a High Court challenge taking place this October on the current plans and was confident it would force the government to make new air quality plans.

In order to achieve change in air pollution, Mr Andrews put forward the need for a “really ambitious action” for transport, including action to switch away from diesel and more ultra-low emission zones in cities.

On the issue of Brexit, Mr Andrews said there would be no impact yet, whilst the UK still remained in the EU, and said it would not affect the upcoming court case.

In the long run, however, Brexit would affect air protections, he said.

He pointed out that under a Norway model, air quality legislation and obligations would still apply. Nevertheless, Mr Andrews suspected that the UK would have a more bespoke bilateral relationship.

He stressed the need for a UK Clean Air Act to safeguard air protection legislation in domestic law. Mr Andrews suggested that there was an opportunity to create a coherent legislative framework, with more stringent and enforceable laws.

He also noted that there was the need for greater coherence between different policy areas when it came to air pollution, namely between climate change, transport, and health.

He closed his remarks stating that a modern Clean Air Act was the start of the conversation on air pollution and public health concerns remained imperative.

Alaric Lester

Next, Mr Lester stated that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs planned to reduce NOx levels had a long way to go to achieve 2025 targets.

He reflected on remarks on how road vehicles produced the most problems in the UK. He pointed out that Euro 6 standards had gone a long way to reduce emissions, but said that these had only applied to vehicles from 2015.

He drew upon research conducted by Temple Group which identified areas of action to reduce air pollution that were economically and environmentally sustainable. This included improvements to buses outside London, mobile construction machinery, motor scrappage schemes, and application of photocatalysts to road surfaces.

Concluding, Mr Lester said that there was an economic and moral case to implement solutions to air pollution.

Councillor Heather Acton

Following, Cllr Heather Acton raised the issue of building emissions in Westminster, which she claimed caused 40 per cent of emissions.
In a wider policy context, Cllr Acton highlighted the need to create a modal shift to reduce emissions, for example walking and cycling initiatives in Westminster.

Further to that, she discussed the need for behavioural shifts, and said this was in the context of an increase in private hire vehicles and services, such as Deliveroo and Amazon. This had resulted in more cars on the road.

Questions and Answers

Labour MP Geraint Davies stated there was a risk of Brexit stripping away legal protections on air pollution. He suggested the Government had signalled moves to look into the distinction with emissions.

A representative from the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership raised the issue of private hire vehicles and the need to encourage such organisations to operate in a more sustainably, and used an example of Uber currently in an electric vehicle partnership.

In response, a representative from Uber highlighted the partnership deal, but stated that the sufficient infrastructure for such vehicles to implement the scheme more widely was not in place.

A number of questions were asked on the need for greater recognition of air pollution caused by the maritime industry, particularly by cruise liners.

In response, Labour MP Matthew Pennycook agreed that it was a problem and argued that little responsibility had been taken on this issue to include maritime industry in air quality plans.

Labour MP Alan Whitehead agreed that the maritime industry did have a role in reducing air pollution. He also highlighted that more action could be taken to increase the use of shore to ship plug-ins, which he said was currently only used by five to seven per cent of ships.

A representative from Friends of the Earth agreed with the point raised by the panel on cutting vehicle emissions, and encouraged the APPG to look into cutting traffic levels, analysing planning laws to ensure they do not increase traffic levels, and devolving more powers to local authorities, such as the ability to evoke emergency traffic solutions.

A representative from Greenpeace questioned the panel on the role of manufacturers and corporations, and the tests could be useful, but the effects of tests would not be felt yet.

However, Mr Andrews pointed out that there was a lack of appetite by the UK Government and other European governments to take on the industry.

Bridget Fox from Campaign for Better Transport demonstrated to the APPG a legislative disconnect between road and rail freight. Whilst rail freight was seen as part of the problem in terms of air pollution, it should be viewed as part of the solution, she argued.

Concluding the discussion, Executive Director of the Environmental Industries Commission Matthew Farrow stated the importance of enforcement for decreasing air pollution, and argued that policy was only as good as its enforcement.

 

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