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Joint Inquiry on Air Quality

Air quality has received considerably growing attention in the past two years. While emissions from vehicles have often been the focus, the built environment is also responsible for emissions directly, and indirectly, in the way it plans to incorporate green infrastructure and to encourage (or not) walking, cycling and public transport over individual vehicle transport. The topic is therefore highly relevant to CIBSE members in a number of areas.

Objectives of the consultation

Four House of Commons Select Committees including the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health, and Transport, re-launched their joint inquiry into improving air quality. The aim was to scrutinise the Government's plans to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution on public health and the environment.

In July 2017, after UK courts twice ruled that the Government’s plans to cut air pollution were inadequate, the Government released a new air quality plan. The cross-party inquiry aimed to examine whether this new plan went far enough, fast enough to both meet legal limits and to deliver the maximum environmental and health benefits.

The Committees invited written submissions on the following key questions:

  • How effectively do Government policies take into account the health and environmental impacts of poor air quality?
  • Do these plans set out effective and proportionate measures to achieve necessary emissions reductions as quickly as possible?
  • Are other nations or cities taking more effective action that the UK can learn from?
  • Is there enough cross-government collaboration to set in place the right fiscal and policy incentives? In particular, the Committees are interested in the role of Local Authorities and the need for effective collaboration across government departments.
  • How can those charged with delivering national plans at local level be best supported and challenged?

The inquiry closed on 9 November 2017.

Supporting papers

To download documents that support this inquiry, please follow the links below:

CIBSE response

CIBSE response to this inquiry was published, amongst other submissions, on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee website.

CIBSE highlighted in the response Members' opinion that the impact of air quality on health is not addressed in Government policies in a comprehensive, consistent, and sufficient manner. The Government focuses on whether the UK meets its legal obligations. However, these air quality objectives do not entirely follow EU objectives and, more importantly, they are not aligned with recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO). 

CIBSE recommended the implementation of revised objectives aligned with those of the WHO. This was also recommended by NICE in recent guidelines, at least within clean air zones4. EU Directives on ambient air quality have provided long-term objectives and a clear framework for policy and investment decisions. CIBSE would welcome assurances that such a stable and long-term approach will be retained post April 2019.

To read the full CIBSE response please follow the link below.

Results of the consultation and next steps

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees published its response to the inquiry on improving air quality on 7 March 2018. The report makes a number of recommendations on the Government’s approach to air quality and how the delivery of the 2017 plan should be improved. It focuses on the need for action that:

  • prioritises the protection of public health and the environment over the demonstration of compliance with legal limits in a limited number of places;
  • unifies legislation and establishes clear enforcement mechanisms after EU-exit;
  • increases ambition, speed of action, and support to tackle air quality; and
  • substantially improves levels of cross-departmental collaboration.

To read the full report, please follow the link below.

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