Firstly, I am aware of Asthma + Lung UK's event in Parliament on 13 September which I will try my best to attend, Parliamentary business permitting.
The Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 require the UK to undertake air quality assessment to assess legal compliance against air pollutant concentration limit and target values and report the findings and associated data on an annual basis. This assessment is done for all local authorities not just those establishing Clean Air Zones.
At a local level, the most immediate challenge on air quality is nitrogen dioxide concentrations around roads. The UK Plan for Tackling Roadside Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations sets out how compliance with existing legal targets can be achieved in the shortest possible time. The plan is supported by a £3.5 billion investment into air quality and cleaner transport and outlines how councils with the worst levels of air pollution at busy road junctions and hotspots must take robust action in the shortest time possible.
Between 2007 and 2019, the annual mean Nitrogen Dioxide concentration at roadside sites reduced by an average of 1.8 µg/m3 each year. This reduction was observed at most long-running monitoring sites across the UK and is a possible consequence of the large reduction in road transport emissions of NO2 over the same period in the UK, as newer vehicles subject to stricter emissions standards enter the transport fleet.
To help affected local authorities take immediate steps to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions and meet the Government’s obligations, more than £880 million of support has been made available. Alongside this, £2 billion of investment is being made in cycling and walking over the course of this Parliament – the largest ever boost for active travel.
The Transport Decarbonisation Plan, first published in 2021, is a step change in the breadth and scale of ambition to reduce transport’s greenhouse gas emissions to reach net zero. As part of this, the plan sets out a roadmap to improve public transport and increase support for active travel, which will make them the natural first choice for people across the UK. To this end, commitments include bringing forward to 2030 the date at which sales of new petrol and diesel cars will end to 2030, creating a net zero rail network by 2050, ensuring net zero domestic aviation emissions by 2040 and leading the transition to green shipping.
Air pollution has reduced significantly in recent years, with emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the pollutant that has the worst impact on health, falling by 18 per cent since 2010.
PM.25 refers is fine particulate matter which is small enough to be inhaled deeply into the lungs and can penetrate into the bloodstream. Vehicle exhausts are a notable source of PM.25.
In addition to vehicle exhaust fumes, domestic burning is a major contributor to our national emissions of PM2.5 and so legal restrictions came into force in 2021 on the kinds of fuels that can be burned at home.
Through the Environment Act 2021, the Government is continuing to improve air quality with a target to have an annual mean concentration target for PM2.5 levels at 10 µg per m3 or below by 2040, as well as a target to reduce population exposure to PM2.5 by 35 per cent by 2040 (compared to 2018). I understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs believes that these levels cannot be achieved by 2030 but can by 2040.
The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants' (COMEAP) landmark 2010 report on the subject found that "in the UK, long-term exposure to man-made PM2.5 is responsible for 29,000 premature deaths per year."
It is important to note that these figures are indeed 'statistical constructs' designed to help understand the scale of the problem.
COMEAP’s sub-group on quantification of air pollution risks in the UK (QUARK) recognises the importance of these issues and intends to keep the literature on this topic under review, and will continue to explore relevant methodological issues, as part of its future work programme.
Vehicle idling is taken seriously, and there are existing guidelines on this issue for local authorities, which gives them the ability to issue fines for vehicle idling.
Local authorities should utilise a range of methods to encourage motorists to change their behaviour, including public information campaigns. Motorists should use technological solutions, such as automatic shutdown/start up systems, where possible. Modern buses, for example, often have anti-idling technology, which automatically shuts off the engine without driver intervention.