One of Neil’s top priorities is improving the quality of the air we breathe. Shockingly, poor quality air in Britain’s towns and cities is linked to between 40,000 and 50,000 early deaths per year. Britain is still in breach of its legal obligations on air quality in many of its largest urban centres. It is something Neil is passionate about changing.
Environment Select Committee Report
Under Neil’s Chairmanship, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee published a report on Air Quality in April 2016. The report called the standard of Britain’s air quality nothing less than a ‘public health emergency’ and called for radical action to tackle the problem.
The measures recommended to Government include:
· New Clean Air Zone Powers For Councils
· Tougher standards on transport emissions
· Support for farmers to cut greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants like ammonia
The report and its recommendations set the benchmark for Neil’s work on air quality.
Air Quality Campaign
Neil has joined forces with the independent think tank, Bright Blue, to press the Government for immediate steps to tackle air pollution. The campaign calls for all city councils in England to have the power to establish their own Clean Air Zones to reduce air pollution. Neil believes all councils should be devolved these powers to tackle poor air quality as quickly as possible.
At the launch of the campaign, Neil said:
“Air quality is perhaps the biggest environmental issue of the decade. Too many towns and cities are still in breach of their air quality targets. Clean air should be a right, not a privilege.”
“I’m proud it was a Conservative Government that introduced the first Clean Air Act 60 years ago. Now Britain must lead on air quality and continue on track to sharply reduce air pollutants by the end of the decade.”
Holding the Government to Account
The Government has now lost twice in the courts on its lack of action to bring air pollution below legal limits. The day after the Government's latest defeat in the High Court in November 2016, Neil called on Urgent Question in Parliament, requiring Environment Ministers to immediately set out how they would tackle the illegal air quality in British towns and cities. You can watch Neil's speech and the Minister's response at this link.
Neil has also tabled Written Parliamentary Questions which reveal that as many as 40% of local authorities breached air pollution limits in 2015.
Diesel Scrappage Scheme and Electric Car Debates
Since July 2016, Neil has lead two Parliamentary debates on Electric Vehicles and a Diesel Scrappage Scheme.
Neil has pressed hard for the Government to reduce road transport pollution – principally by incentivising the use of electric cars. He held a Parliamentary debate on 6th July on electric cars and called for the Government to follow the example of Norway, where 25% of new car registrations are for electric vehicles. Neil made the following recommendations to the Government:
· Rapid AC or DC electric car chargers within an average of 1 mile of every home in Britain – instead of the current 4 miles.
· Proper, generous incentives for electric vehicles – both for business and private ownership - including tax breaks, toll exemptions and access to bus lanes.
· An integrated part of the gov.uk website which shows every electric public charge point in the UK and how many ‘rapid’ charge points are available.
· A statutory obligation for every new petrol station to contain electric car charge points
If we can increase electric car numbers in Britain to Norwegian levels, it would make a massive difference to air quality levels in the hot spots in the inner cities. It is a case Neil will continue to make to the Government and the Department for Transport.
In October 2016, the Government came forward with wide-ranging proposals to rapidly increase the number of electric car charge points in the UK. The Chancellor's Autumn Statement in November 2016 also promised an extra £390 million to support ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) and renewable fuels. This includes £80 million for electric charging infrastructure and £150 million in support for low emission buses and taxis. Neil will continue to keep up the pressure to ensure Britain keeps ahead of the curve in the rapidly-growing electric vehicle market.
Diesel Scrappage Scheme
In April 2017, Neil led a Parliamentary debate on a Diesel Scrappage Scheme. He called for a targeted and proportionate scheme to encourage drivers to trade in some of the dirtiest diesel engines for cashback on an Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle.
The Minister promised to consider the scrappage scheme Neil proposed. In July, the Government went one better and committed to a public consultation on implementing a scrappage scheme.
New Government Air Quality Plan
In July 2017, the Government published its new Air Quality Plan. The plan included:
- £255m to support local authorities prepare their air quality strategies
- A new ‘Clean Air Fund’ to allow councils to start their anti-air pollution measures.
- £100m for retrofitting old buses and new low emissions buses
- Considering changes to the diesel taxation system
- A public consultation on a diesel scrappage scheme
Neil will now hold the Government to their air quality promises. Nothing is more important than the air we breathe. Air pollution must be brought within legal limits – as soon as possible.