My Air Pollution Amendment – Environment Bill Report Stage Day 3

The City of London Corporation, London Councils, Clean Air London, a Lib Dem Peer and a Green Peer: these are people you might not think would naturally link together—but on this issue we are speaking with one voice. There is a problem and we have to fix it, and this is how you can fix it.

My Lords, I support Amendment 51, which is a no-brainer. This whole group talks about a public health disaster. We have not understood the impact of these emissions on public health—and not just their immediate impact but their long-term impact. There is huge damage to the NHS because of the problems forced on it by these emissions, and these amendments are extremely well designed to fix some of those problems. I should declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I wholeheartedly support Amendment 55 in the name of  Lord Tope, and congratulate him on a very thorough exposition of the reasons for it. I have signed Amendments 55, 56 and 57 because they are all very clearly linked. Quite honestly, the Bill really has to say something on air pollution.

It is worth pointing out, as Lord Tope, did, that his amendment has been—I was going to say “concocted” but there must be a better word—written by some very distinct groups. They are the City of London Corporation, London Councils, Clean Air in London, a Lib Dem Peer and a Green Peer. These are people you might not think would naturally link together—but on this issue we are speaking with one voice. There is a problem and we have to fix it, and this is how you can fix it.

The Bill would quite rightly amend the Environment Act 1995 to give local authorities new functions and duties. For example, they must have regard to the national strategy and identify relevant sources of emissions. Another part of the 1995 Act would be amended to include things such as that they

“must, for the purpose of securing … air quality standards and objectives … prepare an action plan”.

Again and again, the Government give duties and responsibilities to local authorities, which is very smart. But, at the same time, you cannot keep giving such a workload if you do not give people the resources to do it. Those resources are partly powers and partly money, and these tough duties are not matched by either powers or finance. We therefore need legislation that would give local authorities the powers they need to decarbonise buildings. This is the next step; we are always talking about transport, but buildings are also a huge source of carbon emissions, as are other non-traffic emissions such as those from construction equipment and stationary generators.

We also have to give the Secretary of State powers in regulations to set common standards that could be tightened over time. Ideally, the Secretary of State would encourage the use of zero-emission or ultra-low-emission appliances to align air pollution and climate efforts. Amendment 55 would strike the right balance between duties and powers for local authorities.

Amendment 56 is very sensible. It would make the problem of stationary idling much easier to tackle; it is a plague at the moment. I make myself very unpopular by going up to people who have their engines idling outside schools and so on, and telling them to turn them off. That is one of the things I do for fun, obviously.

My Amendment 57 is a sort of super-amendment that pushes farther. As your Lordships would expect from a Green, it is more radical. It is based on the amendment tabled by Lord Tope, so in principle it has support from those other authorities—but not quite enough to put that into writing. I have to declare that I am a sinner; I installed a wood-burning stove in a flat that I used to own and I am really sorry about that. In fact, I burned incredibly dry wood—which makes it slightly better—because a scaffolding yard which was next door to my flat supplied me with bone-dry pine from their scaffolding. 

To go back to the point, my amendment builds on the excellent Amendment 55 tabled by Lord Tope, in three important ways. First, it would emphasise the need to include fine particles: these PM2.5s, which we have heard so much about and which are so nasty, because they not only go into the lungs but pass through them into the bloodstream and other organs. They are highly damaging and we probably have not yet caught up with all the damage that they do, particularly to children. They have to go into the national air quality target set under either Clause 1 or Clause 2. As we heard earlier, this is the most harmful form of air pollution, affecting us all at some stage in our lives.

Secondly, my amendment would give metro mayors, alongside local authorities, powers to designate any part of their area exceeding WHO air-quality guidelines as an air-quality improvement area. That is a very useful power and they could set restrictions based on regulations made by the Secretary of State. This seems only right and fair if we are to avoid a patchwork of emissions standards in our largest cities, all of which are polluted.

Last but not least, my amendment would end the sale and use of wood-burning stoves in urban areas over seven years, as the original Clean Air Act was meant to do in 1956. This is important because Defra’s latest statistical release on air pollution said that the use of wood in domestic combustion activities accounted for 38% of PM2.5 emissions in 2019, and these emissions doubled between 2003 and 2019. So we have a real problem and I very much hope that that the Government are listening on this—but perhaps they are not.

Not only are wood stoves and fireplaces a major source of the most harmful air pollution, but the Climate Change Committee is clear that wood-burning stoves should not be counted towards either low-carbon heat targets or renewable targets. So I really hope that the Government are listening.

Read the whole debate in Hansard