A group of MPs across four separate committees have banded together to launch a “super inquiry” into the effects of air pollution on the health of residents of major UK cities.
The decision was made following several studies showing the dangerous levels of air pollution in the UK and in London in particular. According to the government’s own data, air pollution is responsible for 40-50,000 early deaths every year, 9,000 of which are in London. In the capital, more than 800 education institutions are in areas where air pollution levels are illegally high.
In several cities and towns across the UK, air pollution levels exceed legal limits imposed by EU environmental legislation. In both 2016 and 2015, air pollution levels in London breached annual limits set by the World Health Organisation in January; this year the limit was breached within just five days.
Back in 2016, a report from the Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee described the situation as a “public health emergency”.
“Poor air quality is damaging the UK’s environment and harming the nation’s health,” it said. “Emissions have declined significantly over many decades, but not far enough to prevent the early deaths of 40-50,000 people each year.”
The new inquiry will go further than ever in investigating the health effects of the pollution, and the measures that various government bodies can take to reduce it.
The committees involved are: the EFRA committee, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), the Health Committee and the Transport Committee. The idea is that combining the remits and expertise of each respective committee will make for a much more effective inquiry than one conducted by any on their own.
This is not the first time official action has been sought to tackle pollution-induced health problems in the UK. Following Supreme Court orders issued in 2015, the government drew up a clean air plan that was rejected on the grounds that the measures proposed were insufficient to deal with the problem. Another draft of the plan is due later this year.
EAC chair Mary Creagh said that this new ‘super inquiry’ will go further than any government action before it.
She said: “The UK courts have twice found that the government has failed to deal with our air pollution problem properly. Now, ministers will face unprecedented scrutiny in Parliament to ensure they finally step up to the mark to ensure adults, and children in particular, do not have their health damaged by filthy air.”
Neil Parish, EFRA Committee chair made a similar statement: “The solutions to cleaning up our air are not the responsibility of just one minister. That’s why we have taken the unprecedented task of convening four select committees so we can scrutinise the government’s efforts from every angle and look for holistic solutions that are good for health, transport and the environment.”
And Transport Committee chair Louise Ellman said: “Emissions from vehicles are a significant problem and the standards that governments have relied on have not delivered the expected reductions. We will be asking what more can be done to increase the use of cleaner vehicles as well as to encourage the use of sustainable modes of transport.”