William Eichler 17 June 2022

Air quality improvements ‘not as fast as expected’

Air quality improvements ‘not as fast as expected’ image
Image: MagicBones / Shutterstock.com.

The Government’s programme for helping local authorities tackle air pollution has progressed more slowly than expected, according to auditors.

In 2016 the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) established a Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) with the Department for Transport (DfT) to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution.

A new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that the Government is not yet on track to achieve its targets for reducing air pollution.

The Government has identified 64 local authorities with potential breaches of NO2 concentration limits. As at April 2022, information from JAQU showed only 14 of these councils had implemented all the measures that are expected to bring NO2 levels within legal limits, with a further 16 found to be already compliant.

The Government had estimated that the measures would take three years or less to implement, but according to the NAO it is set to take longer in many areas.

The NAO’s report acknowledged that COVID-19 had caused delays. However, it also warned that the Government ‘does not clearly and consistently communicate air quality issues or its proposed solutions to the public.’

In particular, it said that people cannot easily find out about air quality problems in their local area, whether pollution levels breach legal limits, and what progress their local authority is making on tackling those problems.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: ‘Government has made progress with tackling illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution, but not as fast as expected. There are also concerns about the health risks from particulate matter, which government is finding challenging to tackle. To meet all its 2030 targets for major air pollutants, government will need to develop robust solutions quickly.

‘The public need clear information to understand why clean air measures are important and what the measures will mean in their area. Those living in the worst-affected areas ought to be able to find out when and how their air quality is likely to improve.’

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