The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs released its clean air consultation on a big news day. The fact that motoring is responsible for 80 percent of the 23,500 deaths from nitrogen dioxide emissions was released on Saturday, an hour before Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party.
Defra was forced to release its consultation after losing a case earlier this year in the Supreme Court. The judge in the Defra v Client Earth case stated on 29th April that the government “should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this [clean air] issue.”
The lawyer-led Client Earth campaign group has spent five years challenging the UK government to meet its EU commitments on clean air. The group said Defra’s announcement of a consultation was “hollow”, but for active travel campaigners the documents that were released alongside the consultation are surprisingly forceful on the need to get the most polluting motor vehicles off certain roads. Defra said it wants to “encourage more walking and cycling” and that there would have to be “access restrictions” for motorists on those roads with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide levels.
In London, more than 1000kms of roads were highlighted as requiring measures to reduce emissions, especially from diesel engines. Other cities also have roads that will require access restrictions, said Defra, including nearly 200kms of roads in the West Midlands and 170kms in Greater Manchester.
Defra recommends that local authorities should consider bolstering their existing Low Emission Zones by “closing roads to certain vehicles.” Relying on local authorities to carry out such access restrictions is a major weakness of Defras latest stance, claims Client Earth.
However, it’s interesting that Defra is nevertheless talking tough on road transport. Meanwhile, what campaigners bill as the Department for Motorised Transport is rushing headlong into building more major roads, is planning to uncouple emissions from vehicle excise duty, and has yet to commit firm cash to back up its forthcoming Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy.
Defra’s tough stance – just verbal so far, with action yet – might make DfT ministers and mandarins squirm. It is “absolutely clear that the transport system needs to be balanced in favour of sustainable transport modes,” said Defra, adding that road planners should “give priority to pedestrian and cycle movements.”
Defra’s consultation is now open – it will close in November. Anybody can submit views to the consultation.
UPDATE: Since running the story Chris Boardman has tweeted his reaction, one of mystification that the alarming numbers struggle to get a response and positive action from the government: