Welsh Government ‘must act quicker’ to implement Clean Air Act for Wales say politicians
Welsh Conservatives have urged Welsh Government ministers to speed up the implementation of the Clean Air Act for Wales.
Wales has some of the worst air quality in the UK, some areas have breached EU regulations for several years, culminating in the last Welsh Government being taken to court in 2018 for its lack of action.
The A494 in Deeside is one such area where nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions were found to be above the legal limit leading to the Welsh Government introducing a 50mph speed reduction from St David’s Park, Ewloe to Deeside Industrial Park Interchange.
There are now proposals to erect 30ft high environmental barriers at the side of the A494 in a big to further emissions.
Poor air quality has huge social costs through its impacts on health, and adverse effects on wildlife and biodiversity.
But tackling air pollution is not only a health or environmental issue, it’s a matter of social justice.
Researchers have described a ‘triple jeopardy effect’ at play – where those from a low socio-economic status are exposed to higher levels of pollution because of where they live or work.
Research has also found air pollution to be higher in Wales’ most deprived areas. It concluded that air pollution, deprivation and health are inextricably linked.
Public Health Wales has described outdoor air pollution as the greatest environmental risk to health.
It estimates between 1,000-1,400 deaths per year in Wales can be attributed to exposure to air pollution.
In August 2020 the last Welsh Government launched its Clean Air Plan for Wales: Healthy Air, Healthy Wales.
It identified a range of actions including investing in active travel infrastructure; strengthening the control of emissions in agriculture; publishing a Clean Air Zone Framework for Wales in Spring 2021, taking into account the findings of a review into road user charging; and implementing a national air pollution and monitoring service by December 2022.
The plan also set out an intention to introduce a new Clean Air Act for Wales.
In January 2021, the last Welsh Government published a White Paper setting out a number of legislative proposals.
An indicative timetable within the White Paper suggests drafting of the Bill would commence in 2022.
Healthy Air Cymru welcomed the plans but says the timetable for enacting the legislation is “far too slow”.
It points to the fact that “it could be as late as 2024 before any regulations come into effect”.
The Welsh Government has now been urged to speed up the implementation of its Clean Air Act for Wales.
Commenting, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Janet Finch-Saunders MS said:
“A clean air act was promised in the First Minister’s leadership manifesto.”
“He now has been in power for almost 1,300 days yet his Labour Government is yet to implement one.”
“Every year that Labour Ministers kick this vital act down the road is another year that the poorest in society have to breathe in polluted air.”
“This is a serious matter. People’s health is being damaged.”
“It’s long past time for Labour Ministers in Cardiff Bay to stop wasting time pushing to increase the number of politicians in the Senedd and implement a Clean Air Act.”
Which pollutants are most concerning?
The main air pollutants that affect our health are nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3) and other small, particulate matter (PM). PM is the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air and is classified by size, with PM2.5 representing smaller size particles than PM10. PM2.5 is considered to be the more dangerous to health.
Most breaches of EU limits within the UK are a result of roadside NO2, 80% of which comes from road transport.
The White Paper on a Clean Air (Wales) Bill
- introduce a legal requirement for a Clean Air Plan or Strategy to be reviewed at least every 5 years;
- strengthen powers for local authorities to address vehicle idling, including powers to increase the fixed penalty amount that can be issued;
- introduce an enhanced Local Air Quality Management Regime; and
- enact a new target for PM levels, taking account of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines – the WHO has recommended guidelines for PM5 levels that are half the current EU limit.
It also makes proposals in relation to smoke control areas where it is an offence to emit smoke from a chimney of a building unless using an approved fuel or appliance. It proposes that these powers are extended to include outdoor burning such as bonfires.
Alongside the White Paper the last Welsh Government launched a consultation on proposals to reduce emissions from domestic burning of solid fuel.
It proposes a ban on the sale of wet wood and traditional house coal – fuels which some in rural areas rely upon to heat their homes.
Similar measures have already been set out in England.
Whether these plans are a breath of fresh air or the outlook remains hazy is yet to be seen. What is clear is that air quality will be a major challenge for the next Welsh Government to address.
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