Up to 600 stations for monitoring air pollution across England could be shut down under new government plans to save money by cutting regulations.
Ministers want to remove obligations on local authorities to assess air quality in their areas, resulting in less monitoring. But environmental campaigners are accusing them of trying to hide one of the country’s biggest public health problems.
Government advisers have estimated that one type of pollutant – miniscule particles from diesel engines, fossil fuel power stations and other sources – is killing 29,000 people a year in the UK, and costing health services about £16bn.
But European air pollution limits meant to protect health are being breached in urban areas across the country, with the highest levels in London. According to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the limits for the toxic exhaust gas, nitrogen dioxide, were exceeded in 40 of the UK’s 43 air quality zones in 2010.
But now Defra has launched a six-week consultation, due to close on 30 August, proposing a radical overhaul of the local air quality management regime that has been in place since 1997. The proposals are aimed at helping meet ministers’ “red tape challenge” to roll back legislation in order to help businesses.
The favoured option is to drop existing requirements for councils to make detailed assessments of air pollution. Defra’s analysis shows that this could lead to the closure of 600 monitoring sites, all of which measure nitrogen dioxide and a quarter of which also test for pollution from tiny particles.
The closures could save councils nearly £50m over 10 years, Defra suggests. The proposals only apply to England, and have been rejected by the Scottish government on the grounds that they “would deliver no obvious benefit”.
“The UK government wants to hide air pollution and cares nothing for public health,” said Simon Birkett, director of the campaign group, Clean Air in London. He points out that the consultation is taking place in the summer holidays and describes the financial saving as illusory.
He added: “Worse, the changes would mean the loss of key protections in the planning system and the very monitors and expertise needed now to improve air quality.”
Prof Duncan Laxen, the managing director of Air Quality Consultants in Bristol, said that much of our understanding of air pollution has come from local authority monitoring: “It will be a retrograde step if the government’s preferred option is to lose this local knowledge.”
Defra insisted that the aim is to “reinvigorate and refocus” local air quality management. It said that the current regime was “diagnosis driven” and that “the level of local reporting can distract resources from air quality improvement”.
via Air pollution monitoring stations face closure as government looks to cut costs | Environment | theguardian.com.