Government gives up on air quality

At the end of January and flying in the face of public opinion and scientific research, environment secretary Therese Coffey abandoned air quality targets set by the government in 2018. It is an appalling decision in terms of public health and further erodes the credibility of the current Conservative government.

A government which publishes a 12-year target for improvement for such a significant public health and environmental issue, and then four years later simply dismisses them without any credible justification, cannot claim to be acting in the best interests of our nation.
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of charity Asthma and Lung UK expressed her concern in no uncertain terms: “…air pollution is a public health emergency which causes 36,000 premature deaths a year…”
Sarah claims the government has ignored calls to bring forward its compliance date, to reduce an unacceptably high incidence of debilitating respiratory conditions. Once again the burden will inevitably fall on our already underfunded NHS service.

Last week, a report from the statutory watchdog the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) criticised the government for failing or showing little progress on nearly every environmental measure. The report revealed the government is failing even to collect data on many key areas.
Greenpeace UK was scathing, with Doug Parr, the group’s policy director, saying: “Ministers want to crack down on dual flush toilets while letting water firms pump tonnes of raw sewage into our rivers and seas.”
Introducing her revised Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP), contrary to research produced by air pollution experts from King’s College and Imperial College, Coffey declared the targets unachievable without reference to any specific evidence. “I would have loved to have made our target to achieve 10 micrograms by 2030, not 2040.”

Something is seriously awry with government planning if a 12-year target suddenly becomes a 22-year one. It makes you wonder if the date was simply plucked out of the air to give the impression of commitment to some kind of plan.
Having fobbed off the press with a revised plan (EIP), which does nothing more than (excuse the pun) provide the government with ‘a bit of breathing space’ in delivering on environmental targets, Coffey’s master stroke in abdicating responsibility was to offload the problem to local councils.
She insists they already had enough power to tackle the problem of air quality. Instead of new tools, or any additional funding councils will be “challenged” to improve air quality faster and will be assessed on how they use existing powers.

Wiltshire Council, already forced to commit 38% of its budget to shore up social care, will no doubt be delighted to hear it now has the challenge of increasing the rate at which it is improving air quality.
Challenge without support often ends badly. Coupled with a lack of leadership it is fatal. Unfortunately, we have a government that avoids accountability by every means possible through vague planning and an apparent reluctance to measure progress. The resulting inevitable outcome is a failure to deliver.

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