Government must stop ‘passing the buck’ on illegal air pollution

In the House of Commons this week Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan asked Environment Minister, Therese Coffey, to take urgent action on illegal air pollution. Last month the government’s air quality plans were ruled unlawful for the third time in three years by the High Court.

Quoting the recent court judgement, Mr Morgan asked in the chamber  ‘Portsmouth has consistently breached World Health Organisation guidelines, with 95 premature deaths each year attributed to air pollution. Does the Minister therefore consider it appropriate [for the Government] to take an ‘informal’ approach to preventing deaths and protecting the health of my constituents?’

The House of Commons cross-party DEFRA Select Committee recently declared illegal air pollution has escalated into a ‘public health emergency’, with diseases attributable to air pollution in the UK result in over £20 billion in economic cost each year.

On the 21 February 2018, the Government were defeated in court for the third time in three years by NGO Client Earth. The government failed on two out of the three grounds for the case.

The judge was highly critical of Defra, saying that this was the third unsuccessful attempt by the government to produce a plan to bring down air pollution to legal levels as quickly as possible and all the while people in towns and cities are at “real risk” from air pollution.

Stephen Morgan MP, said:

‘This Government has had to be dragged through the courts every step of the way in order to take any action on air quality.

Portsmouth’s air pollution levels are in continuous breach of World Health Organisation guidelines and yet when I asked the Minister what action the Government would take she suggested it was just the council’s problem.

The government needs to stop shunting this problem on to local authorities and deal with illegal air pollution decisively with the urgency it deserves.’

The UK routinely exceeds the legal levels of pollution set out in a 2008 EU Ambient Air Quality Directive. Air pollution is linked to cancer, asthma, strokes and heart disease and in the UK, contributes to the early deaths of an estimated 40,000 people.

A Labour government would legislate by introducing a new clean air act to bring forward measures to tackle illegal air pollution.