Statement by the Minister for Environment: Air Quality

Apr 24, 2018 | Assembly Business | 1 comment

Plenary 24th April 2018

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Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Thanks to the Minister for her statement today, and thanks for the commitment that you’ve outlined. As David Melding and Simon Thomas have indicated, we have had a bit of a battle to get to this point, but at least there are now some commitments from the Government.

Now, we’ve had quite a few discussions here in the Chamber on this subject during this Assembly term, and, of course, we all want to see the Welsh Government and the Assembly do their utmost to improve air quality in Wales, which is a big problem in most of our built-up urban areas, the question being: what action will be effective in achieving that aim? Now, a lot of air pollution, I think we all recognise, emanates from roads. One of your proposals today is for temporary 50 mph speed limits on motorways and trunk roads. Just a minor point, but I’d like to point out that you cite the A470 between Upper Boat and Pontypridd as one of the proposed 50 mph zones. Well, from what I’m told by regular users of the route, it’s already a 50 mph zone, and has been since roadworks were carried out there some months ago. So, I just wanted to pass that information on.

But a more important point is that these motorways and trunk roads are the only roads that the Welsh Government manages. The vast majority of roads are under local authority control, and these are the roads with pedestrians on them; you don’t get many pedestrians on motorways and major trunk roads. So, of course, what you are going to need to do going forward is have some meaningful interaction with the local councils about how they are dealing with the pollution coming from their roads, and I think this is what we’ve been discussing, to some extent, today, how you’re going to achieve that. I think we need strong guidance from the Welsh Government in this area. I know that you’re proposing an air quality fund, which is good, but you may need to accompany it with strong guidance to ensure that the necessary action is implemented effectively. How strongly will you be overseeing the air quality fund as the relevant Minister?

You say that you want to create clean air zones and restrict admission to these zones by banning certain kinds of polluting vehicles, and I think this is in many ways a fairly obvious step, but, as you recognise yourself, there are going to be major difficulties with this—cultural difficulties as much as anything. To look at the issue more precisely, HGVs have been mentioned by a couple of people. So, one obvious thing is: why have we got HGVs going through residential areas? Should this be allowed? So, that maybe needs to be looked at. But we do have to look at possible repercussions of bringing in these clean air zones, because we have had scientific evidence recently relating to what’s happened in London since the congestion zone was brought in 15 years ago. There is recent research that indicates that, in some ways, air quality has actually worsened in London. In particular, the diesel pollution has increased by 20 per cent. This is because of the increased traffic from diesel-powered buses and taxis.

So, yes, you can look towards public transport, which you’re citing here, but you need to look at what are the emissions coming from public transport, I guess is what I’m saying. So, how are you going to monitor the fleets of buses and the licensed taxis that operate through the 22 local authority areas in Wales? Because you’re going to need to look at that and assess the pollution elements of that if you are encouraging public transport rather than private vehicle use into these areas.

But you need to do all of that first, I think, and, once you’ve got those measures in place — and Simon Thomas has mentioned that extra legislation may be needed — then you’ve got the big task of the cultural change of persuading people who do drive when they could walk to actually get out of the vehicles and do so. But, of course, at the moment it’s kind of a vicious circle, because you can’t persuade people to get out of their vehicles and walk to places like the school because the roads are so polluted, why would they want to do that? So, you need to tackle this cycle at some point, so good luck with it and I’m interested to hear your answers. Thank you.

Hannah Blythyn AM

Hannah Blythyn AM

Title: Minister for Environment Party: Welsh Labour

I thank the Member for his good luck wishes there. To deal with the first thing in terms of the 50 mph temporary speed limit between Upper Boat and Pontypridd, it’s from the Upper Boat roundabout on to the A4058 roundabout at Pontypridd; it’s exactly 4.2 km. So, some of these areas are actually — particularly the one I’m most familiar with, in Deeside — an extension of perhaps where there might have been existing temporary 50 mph zones before.

Interaction with local councils: a key part of this is — We can take action on the trunk roads, but the key part of being able to do this is to offer resources as well as guidance. Clean air zones in major cities like Cardiff are an option with this, and in other places where they may work best and may be a fitting solution to the problems. The plan and the clean air programme will also try to identify, through our monitoring, what is the best solution, what is the action needed in certain places and what best suits those places and what the problem is.

I think one alternative with that, in terms of schools — and you’ve all raised that today — I think I’d go back to this behavioural change, and this generational shift and bringing the younger generation with us in terms of tackling any pollution and monitoring it around schools and coming up with their own solutions, whether that be behavioural change campaigns such as walking buses, ‘no idling’ policies outside the school, scootering to school or using bikes. I’m very keen to support the growth of that in terms of making sure that we develop that pester power and actually start — you know, that we take measures now to tackle air pollution and air quality problems right across the country. I think it is really, really key to make sure that we educate the next generation in particular to take this forward in the future.