Environment Secretary Michael Gove has told MPs that the government’s promised Clean Air Strategy will be published this summer, following the conclusion of local elections across the country in May.
Mr Gove revealed the expected deadline for the strategy during an evidence session to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee on 18 April, looking at the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which was published in January.
During the session, Mr Gove acknowledged that air pollution is a ‘huge public health issue’ and expressed his regret that the government had required legal action to stiffen previous proposals to address nitrogen dioxide emissions.
“I’ve acknowledged that we shouldn’t have been in a position where ClientEarth had to take us to court,” the Secretary of State told MPs, who criticised the government’s spending £500,000 on its legal defence in the cases brought by the campaign group. “To be honest I’m far more worried about the cost to the NHS and the cost in people’s lives,” Mr Gove added.
On the forthcoming Clean Air Strategy, he said: “Shortly after the local elections conclude we will be publishing the next set of measures that we believe will be necessary to clean our air and they will cover everything from tailpipe emissions, to ammonia generated by intensive agriculture, to the way in which we have environmental permitting of our ports.
“When that document is published it will quite rightly be held up to scrutiny, but one of the points that has been made to me, and I accept, is that the air quality problem is a huge public health issue, and unless it is properly addressed it will shorten lives, it will impose additional costs on the NHS, and it will continue to mean that the quality and duration of the lives of the people whom it is our responsibility to serve is diminished.”
The strategy was first mooted after the publication of the government’s air quality plan in July 2017 and is expected to cover five major pollutants, including Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), fine particles (PM2.5) and ammonia (NH3).
This would complement existing policies within the July plan which is aimed at bringing the UK in line with the 40 µgm3 EU limit value for the nitrogen dioxide pollution.