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Environment Environment

Improve air quality in urban areas

Last updated: 09:31am 7 February 2019

We will take action against poor air quality in urban areas.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.25

Our verdict

The Royal College of Physicians estimated that 40,000 people die each year due to air pollution. The government has set air pollution high on its agenda, with frequent mentions in its 25 year environment plan.

The government has also written a plan to tackle sources of air pollution directly, with actions such as investing in electric car charging points, improving public transport and promoting other forms of transport like cycling and walking. That plan includes funding to local authorities, a promise which the government has delivered.

It’s worth noting, however, that the high courts blocked the government’s 2017 clean air strategy, which is the third time this has happened in under a decade. The courts decided that the government’s plan fell short of their legal obligation to reduce air pollution.

In January 2019, the government launched its latest Clean Air Strategy, outlining plans to protect health and the environment by pursuing “clean growth” and taking action to reduce harmful emissions. It’s too soon to know whether this strategy will give rise to further legal challenges, but the charity that was the claimant in the last, successful, court challenge has already voiced concerns about a failure to adequately address pollution from road transport.

Fortunately, we can track the progress of this policy in numbers. In 2017, concentration of nitrogen dioxide in urban areas was 21.6 µg/m³ (microgrammes per cubic metre) according to statistics released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Concentration of PM10, particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less, was 14.2 µg/m³ and PM2.5, particles of diameter 2.5 micrometres or less, was 9.6 µg/m³.

Given the government has provided plans, we can say this policy is ‘in progress’. To consider this ‘done’ we’ll be looking for significant decreases in these pollution numbers by the end of the current government’s term, and will also be seeking confirmation from independent sources.

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