As we rebuild our economy in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Ministers will continue to shape a cleaner, greener and more resilient society.
Clean air is essential for life, health, our environment and the economy; poor air quality shortens lives, contributes to chronic illness, and is the largest environmental health risk in the UK.
While it is encouraging that air pollution has reduced significantly in the past decade, there is still more to do. I am therefore glad that the Clean Air Strategy aims to cut air pollution and save lives, setting out how the UK will go further and faster than the EU in reducing exposure to particulate matter pollution. It sets out a goal to halve the number of people living in locations with concentrations of particulate matter above WHO guidelines and I am encouraged that it has been described by the WHO as 'an example for the rest of the world to follow'.
I welcome that the Environment Act will drive significant environmental improvement and tackle pollution by setting legally-binding, long-term targets in key areas including air quality, water, and resource efficiency and waste. I am glad that the Act introduces a duty on the Government to set at least two air quality targets by October 2022; a target to reduce the annual average level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air, and a further target to improve air quality. Further, the Act strengthens requirements for all tiers of local Government to work together to improve air quality, and also promotes a more collaborative approach to improving air quality through the Local Air Quality Management Framework in England.
This action is backed up by a £3.8 billion plan to improve air quality and create cleaner transport. This includes nearly a £1.5 billion investment to support the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles; £1.2 billion to increase cycling and walking and make our roads safer for vulnerable users; and £880 million to help local authorities develop and implement local air quality plans and to support those impacted by these plans. A further £2.5 billion will support a number of cities to improve their local transport systems through the Transforming Cities Fund.
I truly recognise that short-term exposure to elevated levels of PM2.5 can impact health, particularly for vulnerable groups. I am therefore glad that ministers are taking action to increase public awareness about air pollution, including through an expanded £8 million funding pot which will be made available to local authorities through the Air Quality Grant scheme.
Under the Environment Act, the Government will have a duty to bring forward a target for PM2.5 by October 2022. In setting air quality targets, my ministerial colleagues have sought advice from the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) on whether the priority aim should be long-term exposure rather than short-term. COMEAP advised that a focus on long-term average concentrations of PM2.5 is most appropriate to deliver public health benefits. The two air quality targets that the Government plans to set will therefore focus on reducing the long-term exposure to PM2.5 and its associated health impacts, and I am assured that actions taken to achieve these targets will contribute to reducing average daily concentrations of PM2.5.