Last week, industry professionals and environmentalists marveled at news of Redbridge’s £100,000 ($160,870.33) air quality grant which was offered as part of the Mayor of London’s £20 million ($32M) Air Quality Fund. But already it seems that the initiative has been soured by the news that up to 600 regional air quality stations could face closure in the UK.
Despite the generous grant to Redbridge Council, London, which proved to be a real effort to reduce pollutants and emissions in the capital’s residential boroughs, outside of the city initiatives to measure and tackle air quality seem to have taken a great step back under proposed government cuts.
While London has benefitted from a £2.3 ($3.7)million cash injection across numerous districts such as Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Barking, Dagenham and Havering under the Mayor’s scheme, local authorities around the country may no longer hold any obligations to measure air quality in their jurisdiction.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are proposing to cut current levels of local monitoring which have been in place since 1997. Despite recognizing that 40 of the UK’s 43 air quality zones exceeded European limits in terms of air quality pollution, DEFRA have still proposed that eradicating the need for governments to carry out detailed assessments could save local authorities £50 ($80.5) million over a 10 year period.
Understandably this has not only caused concern amongst scholarly experts and campaign groups, but also represents a real contradiction to the progress being made in London. Arguably despite the fact the highest levels of air pollution are in London, invigorating London boroughs with real efforts whilst snatching hundreds of air monitoring stations away has just led to confusion for future air quality measures.
The Redbridge air quality grant will see a number of measures implemented over a 3 year period (2013-2016) including tree planting, ‘green walls’ and educational campaigns for pupils at the borough’s school and their parents. Sounds fantastic, right? But to instigate these changes, air quality monitoring must surely have played a real part in determining which areas needed attention and exactly what measures should be put in place?
Whether cutting down on air quality monitoring will simply sweep the issue of pollutants and emissions practically under the carpet has yet to emerge, but we’d argue that it’s very difficult to make targeted efforts when in the dark about the intricacies of air quality.
Jethro Redmore, the Resource and Environmental Consultants Ltd. Air Quality Impact Group Manager, highlighted the important role this local authority data has for our understanding of air pollution and outlined how harmful the new proposal could be to air quality efforts, stating: “If these new proposals come to fruition, the past 10 years of air quality will be undone and any future progress will be in jeopardy”.
Whilst stack emissions testing will continue to be a requirement for relevant businesses, we’re curious to know whether the community feels this will simply allow businesses to become irresponsible in regards to their emissions and impact on the local and wider environment. Will businesses at risk consequently be expected to employ environmental consultants to ensure their impact is minimal? When we’ve finally began to step up efforts and respond to such a mammoth environmental issue, only for the primary catalyst to progression to be snatched away, we can’t help but feel this will be a great waste that no local authority ‘savings’ can account for.