Last week the UK government published their latest Clean Air Strategy. This has previously been billed as the “final” one and there is no direct further consultation attached to this, which seems to suggest this will continue to be the case.
Most of the new policy in the plan focuses on providing information on air quality to citizens, improving modelling and data, and asking businesses and the health community to focus more on air quality. However, the overall emphasis for action remains with local authorities. That said, there are commitments made by central Government.
The main areas of policy include:

  • Introducing new clean air legislation that will enable the Transport Secretary to compel manufacturers to recall vehicles and non road mobile machinery for any failures in their emissions control system, and to take effective action against tampering with vehicle emissions control systems.
  • Establishing an Office for Environmental Protection (in the Environment Bill) to hold Government and local authorities to account on environmental commitments.
  • Bring forward “provisions on air quality in 2019.” This will include an up to date legislative framework for tackling air pollution at national and local level, tying this into the development of the new environmental principles and governance framework to be outlined in the Environment Bill.
  • Enable greater local action on air pollution by ensuring responsibility sits at the right tier of local government and back this up with new powers as well as making existing powers easier to use.
  • Commit to a new target for nitrogen in the environment.

The origins of this legislation lie in a protracted campaign by legal campaign group ClientEarth. Information about these policies is included because it demonstrates the very real world outcomes that can be achieved by a well-planned and orchestrated campaign that advocates on an issue and uses all the communicators tools to deliver a result.
ClientEarth took the UK government to court no fewer than three times to provide a critical judicial review of the UK government’s air quality policies and the extent to which they met legally binding commitments for EU member states.
At key moments they have collaborated with campaign groups to show the effect of poor air quality and provide more emotive campaign content and they have met with and campaigned to industry and local authorities to ensure consistent local policies – to the extent that the London Mayor Sadiq Khan highlighted air quality in London as the main policy area that he would be focused on during his administration. And in April this year the Ultra Low Emission Zone will come into force in central London and impose a levy on vehicle journeys in the zone by more polluting vehicles.
It’s an impressive achievement by ClientEarth and yes, they have involved many other campaign groups to achieve the outcome that they wanted, but their legal challenges have been the back bone of this campaign. They have kept the UK government on the back foot as they have sought to bring their policy back from the state that it was in before ClientEarth began their campaign and their legal challenges.
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