Hundreds of stations that monitor air pollution across the UK could be shut down under government plans to cut costs and reform the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) scheme.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has launched a six-week consultation on the LAQM, which has been in place since 1997 and monitors levels of air pollution in the UK.
According to Defra, the LAQM has been useful but “has proved difficult to quantify the impacts and effectiveness of measures introduced to improve air quality and very few authorities have been able to revoke any Air Quality Management Areas as a result of their interventions.”
It added that the current system is “very administrative and report and diagnosis driven”, and fails to take into account EU legislation over air quality.
For this reason, the government says, “It is more important that local authorities focus their actions on what is needed to achieve these obligations and to reduce the public health impacts of poor air quality rather than to continue their current focus on local assessment and reporting.”
These measures would lead to the closure of 600 stations monitoring air quality and pollution from small particles caused by diesel engines and the burning of fossil fuels, which are believed to cause the death of 29,000 people per year in the UK. Defra also argues that the new plan would save the government £50m over a decade.
However, campaigners said that the government is trying to minimise the problem of air pollution, which is particularly severe in London.
Simon Birkett, director of the campaign group Clean Air in London, told the Guardian, “The UK government wants to hide air pollution and cares nothing for public health. Worse, the changes would mean the loss of key protections in the planning system and the very monitors and expertise needed now to improve air quality.”
In March, environmental law firm Client Earth took the government to the Supreme Court , accusing it of breach legal limits for air quality. The government later admitted it was at fault in 15 regions across the UK, but complained that the legislation was “unrealistically strict”.