Parliament

Road air quality is not a topic going away any time soon. Road transport accounts for one third of all NOx emissions. The European Environment Agency estimates that road transport contributes to about 70% for nitrogen dioxide, and 30% for particulate matter. This poses an increasing risk to public health and wellbeing: particularly under recent circumstances where a link has been made between a higher mortality rate in areas of air pollution.

This page is dedicated to questions surrounding road air quality raised in parliament, most notably by Barry Sheerman MP, who leads this commission.


On 13th January 2021, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if he will take steps to provide support to local authorities for ensuring that air quality on the routes of refuse collectors across local authorities is monitored; and what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on further support for local authorities with refuse fleets with air quality monitors.

Rebecca Pow answered: The Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) regime requires that local authorities assess air quality in their area and take appropriate steps when an issue is identified.

The siting of air quality monitors is determined by local authorities in light of local conditions and in line with our statutory guidance. Defra provides guidance and support to local authorities to assist them in meeting these LAQM responsibilities. In addition, Defra has a national network of air quality monitors, the ‘Automatic Urban and Rural Network’ (AURN), currently comprising 270 sites across the UK. The number and positioning of AURN monitoring sites is in accordance with criteria set out in Air Quality Standards Regulation 2010.

Local authorities receive grant in aid to cover their local air quality management duties. Defra’s air quality grant programme provides additional funding to local authorities for projects in local communities to tackle air pollution.

In delivering against our ambitious air quality commitments, we regularly hold discussions with Ministers and officials across Government departments, including the Department for Transport.



On 13th January 2021, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education on providing support to primary schools for air quality level monitoring.

Rebecca Pow answered: In delivering against our ambitious air quality commitments, Defra regularly holds discussions with Ministers and officials across Government departments.

Local authorities have statutory duties to review and assess local air quality and, where appropriate, declare Air Quality Management Areas and put in place action plans to address local pollution issues. Defra provides guidance and support to local authorities on local monitoring.

Positioning of local monitors is determined by local authorities and expected to be in line with national and local priorities, which may include schools and other locations where there is high risk of public exposure to air pollutants.

Local authorities are expected to cover the costs of their monitoring through their Grant in Aid funding allocation. In addition, over £1 million of Defra’s 2018/19 Air Quality Grant was reserved for local authorities to pilot and evaluate low cost sensors, including £180,000 which was awarded to Islington Borough Council, Slough Borough Council and Wakefield Metropolitan District Council to undertake projects focused on monitoring air quality in and around schools.


On 11th January 2021, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that people working in (a) early years and (b) other childcare settings are a priority for covid-19 vaccination.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are the independent experts who advise the government on which vaccine(s) the UK should use and provide advice on who should be offered them.

The JCVI advises that the first priorities for the COVID-19 vaccination should be the prevention of mortality and the maintenance of the health and social care systems. As the risk of mortality from COVID-19 increases with age, prioritisation is primarily based on age. This prioritisation captures almost all preventable deaths from COVID-19.

In the next phase of the vaccine rollout, the JCVI have asked that the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) consider occupational vaccination in collaboration with other government departments. The Department for Education is working with DHSC and Public Health England to ensure that the education and childcare workforce is considered for prioritisation in the roll out of the vaccine.


On 11th January 2021, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that school children are not affected by poor air quality; and what steps his Department has taken to deploy air quality monitors in primary schools.

Local authorities are responsible for air quality in their area and must ensure that it meets the standards set in local air quality action plans. If there was concern about the air quality in a school building, it would fall to the body responsible for the school to check that and establish what measures need to be taken to improve air quality, including whether to deploy air quality monitors in primary schools.

In 2018, the Department published Building Bulletin 101 (BB101), which is guidance for school design on ventilation, thermal comfort and indoor air quality. This guidance sets out the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines and Air Quality Standards Regulation 2010 for indoor air quality. BB101 requires the indoor environment of new or refurbished school buildings to be monitored by recording temperature and levels of carbon dioxide.

The Department is collaborating with other government departments and a number of academic institutions on air quality projects. The findings from these projects will, in due course, inform our guidance and standards for school buildings.


On 11th January 2021, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that the importance of (a) air quality and (b) the associated health effects of air pollution are being taught in schools.

There is scope within the geography and science curriculums, and within PSHE, for teachers and schools to teach these topics.

In geography, the purpose of study is to equip pupils with knowledge about diverse places, people, resources and natural and human environments, and at Key Stage 3, pupils should be taught to “understand how human and physical processes interact to influence and change landscapes, environments and the climate” and also the topic of “population and urbanisation”. This is further built upon at GCSE.

In science, pupils in primary schools are taught topics such as changing environments, plants, and different sorts of materials, which will enable them to understand about pollution later on. In the biology content at Key Stage 3, pupils should be taught about “Relationships in an ecosystem” and “how organisms affect, and are affected by, their environment, including the accumulation of toxic materials”. At GCSE, teaching in the sciences continues with the process of building upon and deepening scientific knowledge and the understanding of ideas developed in earlier key stages in the subject disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics. Within chemistry, pupils should be taught about “potential effects of, and mitigation of, increased levels of carbon dioxide and methane on the Earth’s climate; and common atmospheric pollutants: sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, particulates and their sources”.

The Government wants to support all young people to be happy, healthy and safe and has introduced compulsory health education in all primary and secondary state funded schools. The focus of health education is on teaching the characteristics of good physical health and mental wellbeing. The Department has published a package of support to help all teachers increase their confidence and quality of teaching, including in relation to teaching health and prevention and physical health and fitness. The support is available on a one stop page for teachers on GOV.UK and includes access to training delivered through regional Teaching School networks.


On 11th January 2021, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps is he taking to ensure that local authorities are prioritising the elimination of air pollution.

We are continuing to deliver our ambitious plans to improve air quality. To tackle local NO2 exceedances, we are providing £880 million to help local authorities develop and implement local air quality plans and to support those impacted by these plans. We have supported the retrofit of over 3,000 buses with cleaner engines and agreed go live dates for clean air zones in Bath and Birmingham. We are committed to ensuring that local authorities have access to a wide range of options as they develop plans to address roadside pollution in a way that meets the needs of their communities.

In addition, through the Environment Bill we are improving cooperation within the Local Air Quality Management framework to widen the range of bodies that play a role in improving local air quality, including neighbouring local authorities and relevant public bodies, ensuring action is taken by all key players to tackle pollution sources and to improve air quality locally.


On 11th January 2021, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to ensure that climate crisis resolutions passed by local authorities are followed by action across communities to make them more sustainable in terms of air quality.

It is for local authorities to determine the specific actions they take in the context of climate crisis resolutions they have made. However, in our Local Air Quality Management statutory guidance we are clear that local authorities should ensure that all parts of a local authority are working effectively together to improve air quality. Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to review and assess local air quality, and to take action where a local exceedance of statutory local air quality standards and objectives is identified. Where no such exceedance has been identified we nonetheless recommend local authorities develop local air quality strategies.


On 11th January 2021, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment his Department has made of the air quality in each local authority area; and whether his Department prioritises funding for mitigation of poor air quality based on that assessment.

Local authorities are required to review and assess local air quality. If their assessment shows that local pollution levels exceed, or are likely to exceed, local air quality objectives they must declare an Air Quality Management Area and develop an Air Quality Action Plan with the aim of reducing air pollution to within statutory limits.

Local authorities receive grant in aid to cover their local air quality management duties. Defra’s air quality grant programme provides funding to local authorities for projects in local communities to tackle air pollution. Particular consideration is given to applications that can demonstrate they will benefit local areas where there are, or are projected to be, pollutant exceedances. The Government has awarded over £64 million in funding since the air quality grant started in 1997.

The Government has put in place a £3.8 billion plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions. Clean Air Zones will deliver targeted action in air pollution hot spots to improve air quality, to improve health and support economic growth in the urban environment, encouraging the replacement of old, polluting vehicles with modern, cleaner technologies, such as ultra-low emission vehicles.


On 11th January 2021, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what recent assessment he has made of the effect of MOT testing on vehicle emissions on air quality.

Specific analysis relating to the impact of the MOT test on air quality has not recently been conducted by the Department. Emission limits for vehicles undergoing MOT testing have previously been set at a European level, most recently by Directive 2014/45/EU. These regulations were transposed into UK law by the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Amendment) Regulations 2017.


On 11th January 2021, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what steps his Department is taking with supermarket leaders to help ensure that supermarket vehicle fleets are sustainable.

We recognise the important role large fleet operators have to play as we transition to zero emission driving. The Government plans to consult on phasing out the sale of new diesel heavy goods vehicles and we will continue to work with fleet operators towards this.

The Government’s £20m Low Emission Freight Trials funded a series of R&D projects aimed at encouraging the widespread introduction of low and zero emission vehicles to UK fleets. Retailers including Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Tesco and John Lewis were all part of this programme to cut emissions and improve air quality by focusing on emissions-busting technologies for trucks and vans.

The Government has to date already committed £1.5 billion to support the early market for greener cars and vans through various grant funding schemes which fleet operators are able to take advantage of. The Government has announced phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and, from 2035, all new cars and vans must be zero emissions at the tailpipe. To facilitate this we have pledged a further £2.8 billion package of measures to support industry and consumers to make the switch to cleaner vehicles.


On 16th December 2020, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what estimate she has made of the effect of (a) ambient air pollution and (b) exhaust emissions on refuse collectors.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulates work-related health and safety in Great Britain. Employers, including Local Authorities (LAs), have existing duties under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 to manage health risks where workers may be exposed to hazardous substances as a result of work. The Regulations are supported by Workplace Exposure Limits (WELS) for substances hazardous to health. These will inform an employer’s assessment and management of risk from exhaust emissions and pollutants such as Nitrogen Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide that can give rise to Occupational Lung Diseases (OLD).

Low emissions vehicles have only recently become available and HSE is aware that a number of LAs are assessing their economic and environmental benefits. HSE’s remit does not include environmental pollution and HSE does not incentivize or encourage transition to low-emission vehicles. The responsibility for air quality is a devolved matter. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has responsibility for meeting limits in England and co-ordinates assessment and air quality plans for the UK as a whole.

Tackling OLDs as a result of exposure to hazardous substances at work is one of HSE’s health priorities. HSE works with a broad range of stakeholders including trade associations, employers, trade unions, third sector and professional bodies to reduce the incidence rate of OLDs.


On 8th December 2020, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what discussions he has had with Wincanton, Royal Mail, DHL, XPO Logistics, FedEx and UPS on their capacity to improve the sustainability of their vehicle fleets.   

Ministers and officials have periodic meetings with fleet operators about a range of issues. The Government recognises the scope for fleets to be at the vanguard of the transition to zero emission driving and we will continue to work with fleet operators towards this. The Government has to date already committed £1.5 billion to support the early market for greener cars and vans through various grant funding schemes which fleet operators are able to take advantage of. The Government has announced phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and, from 2035, all new cars and vans must be zero emissions at the tailpipe. To facilitate this we have pledged a further £2.8 billion package of measures to support industry and consumers to make the switch to cleaner vehicles.


On 2nd December 2020, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what discussions his Department has had with the Royal College of General Practitioners on the effect of poor air quality on public health.

The Department has engaged with the Royal Medical Colleges frequently. For example, the Chief Medical Officer has engaged with the Royal College Presidents on a fortnightly basis since January 2020 to share information and brief them on our health priorities. More specifically the Department, through Public Health England (PHE), held discussions with the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health about the effects of indoor air quality on health whilst developing the report ‘The inside story: Health effects of indoor air quality on children and young people’, published in January 2020 and was a named co-author.

PHE also previously held discussions with the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health about the effects of poor air quality on health whilst developing the report ‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’, published in February 2016 and was a named co-author.


On 27th November 2020, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what plans he has to support fleet delivery companies to switch to (a) electric or (b) hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.

The transition to zero emission vehicles will help to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals, contribute to reducing poor air quality and contribute to economic growth in the UK by providing skilled jobs in the automotive sector. Our approach to delivering our long-term ambitions for greener transport is technology neutral and we are supporting hydrogen where the market favours its use.

As part of publishing the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the Government announced that we will end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 and that all new cars and vans will be fully zero emission at the tailpipe from 2035. To support the transition, we announced an accompanying support package of £2.8 billion. This includes £1.3 billion to accelerate the roll out of charging infrastructure, targeting support on rapid chargepoints on motorways and major roads, and installing more on-street chargepoints near homes and workplaces to make charging as easy as refuelling a petrol or diesel car.

In addition to grant schemes to install chargepoints at the workplace and at home, fleet delivery companies and their employees can also take advantage of our Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Fleet Support Scheme, which has supported both public and private sector fleets to become early adopters of hydrogen cars and vans. The Government has also put in place a favourable tax regime that rewards the cleanest vehicles, including company fleets.


On 25th November 2020, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what conversations he has had with the Secretary of State for Education regarding air quality and its incorporation into the national curriculum.

Air pollution poses the biggest environmental threat to public health and improving air quality remains a top priority for the Government. In delivering against our challenging air quality commitments, we regularly hold discussions with Ministers and officials across Government departments, including the Department for Education. We have had no specific discussions on the incorporation of air quality within the national curriculum.

Defra’s Air Quality Grant Scheme has provided funding to local authorities to undertake projects focused on schools. Last year’s scheme awarded nearly £500,000 to Blaby District Council, East Sussex County Council, Sheffield City Region Mayoral Combined Authority and Wokingham Borough Council to undertake education and awareness projects in schools to encourage behaviour change such as active travel.


On 9th September 2020, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to ensure that upcoming legislative proposals protect air quality.

Answer: This Government takes its air quality obligations seriously and the world-leading Clean Air Strategy, published in January 2019, sets out the comprehensive action required across all parts of Government to improve air quality for everyone.

The Environment Bill delivers key parts of this Strategy. It introduces a duty to set a legally-binding target for fine particulate matter concentrations, the pollutant of greatest harm to human health, alongside a duty to set a further long-term air quality target. It also ensures that local authorities have a clear framework and simple to use powers to address air quality in their areas; and provides government with new powers to enforce environmental standards for vehicles.

Alongside this, the Bill will include a UK Environmental Protections policy which will allow for greater transparency and strengthened scrutiny by Parliament regarding future environmental legislation, including on air quality.


On 7th September 2020, Barry Sheerman MP raised: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to ensure local authorities make (a) young and (b) vulnerable people within their area aware of the health risks of air pollution.

Answer: Through the statutory Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) framework, local authorities are required to assess air quality in their area and prepare an Annual Status Report providing a summary of the state of local air quality, associated health impacts and the progress on actions the local authority is taking to improve air quality. LAQM statutory guidance requires the local authority to make these reports available to the public and local stakeholders through their website.

Defra’s Air Quality Grant scheme provides funding to local authorities and supports schemes which help councils develop and implement measures to benefit local communities, including campaigns to promote greater air quality awareness.

In the Environment Bill we are mandating a regular cycle of reviews for the Air Quality Strategy, and this will provide an opportunity to outline measures focused on protecting those most vulnerable to air pollution.Question: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to ensure that local authorities are making people aware of air quality levels in their areas.
Answer: 

Through the statutory Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) framework, local authorities are required to assess air quality in their area and prepare an Annual Status Report providing a summary of the state of local air quality, associated health impacts and the progress on actions the local authority is taking to improve air quality. LAQM statutory guidance requires the local authority to make these reports available to the public and local stakeholders through their website.

Defra’s Air Quality Grant scheme provides funding to local authorities and supports schemes which help councils develop and implement measures to benefit local communities, including campaigns to promote greater air quality awareness.

In the Environment Bill we are mandating a regular cycle of reviews for the Air Quality Strategy, and this will provide an opportunity to outline measures focused on protecting those most vulnerable to air pollution.


On 2nd July 2020, Barry Sheerman MP asked whether the government will implement a mandatory sustainable transport plan for every local authority.

‘Whether the Government plan to make a sustainable transport plan implementation strategy mandatory for every local authority.’

In response, Rachael Maclean, Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, cited the emergency active travel grant. Yet, Maclean did not directly respond to Sheerman’s question of whether she would ‘support our new commission on road air quality?’:

‘I assure the hon. Gentleman that I completely share his desire to do things faster than they have been done to date. We have brought forward the e-scooter trials, which will see e-scooters being rolled out in Tees Valley and across the country to immediately harness the benefits of the green air that we are seeing as a result of the pandemic lockdown situation. A whole host of other measures are coming onstream, all backed up by £2 billion of Government support for active travel including cycling and walking. We will continue to work on this through our transport decarbonisation plan.’


On 30th June 2020, Barry Sheerman MP for Hudderfield posed a question of air conditioning in motor vehicles to the Department for Transport:

‘To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what steps his Department is taking to ensure that drivers are protected from poor air quality by adequate vehicle filtration systems.’

Rachel Maclean, Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, responded:

‘The Government is determined to improve air quality and the Department’s officials are engaging with international expert groups, who are developing measurement procedures for vehicle interior air quality. There are currently no legislative requirements for vehicle cabin air filtration systems however some manufacturers install higher efficiency air filtration systems.’


On 11th October 2018, Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, responded to John Hayes, MP for South Holland and The Deepings, who asked how the department was supporting the transition to electric vehicles.

Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, intervened and cited the benefits of having electric refuse collection vehicles. He outlined how the ‘waste trucks that pick up waste from every house in every part of our country every week are polluting vehicles’. Sheerman highlighted the ‘really good opportunity for a win’, with Dennis Eagle now producing a battery-operated waste truck as a way to decrease pollution in cities.

Grayling agreed with Sheerman, and admitted that he was unaware of this electric vehicle being produced. The Secretary of State for Transport acknowledged Sheerman’s comments and went on to say, ‘if we are going to meet air quality challenges, we need to make the kind of change he describes’.