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Influencing new law for Wales on air quality

Blue sky and clouds

Summary
This project aims to influence new law for Wales on air quality. It combines research and engagement strengths in Swansea University across disciplines including medicine, management, law, engineering, anthropology and human rights. It also brings together an independent stakeholder group to engage proactively in Welsh Government policy and legislation from autumn 2019 through to likely draft legislation in 2021 and beyond.

The Problem
Research suggests that poor air quality in the UK is responsible for high numbers of premature deaths and physical and mental health problems. There are also significant social and economic costs including costs to health and social care systems.

In Wales, as elsewhere in the UK and the world, there are multiple challenges both in the short and long term, such as:

  • data collection on air quality, even when compliant with the legislation, is inadequate
  • legislation is not doing enough monitoring in enough of the right places 
  • issues with data collection, communication and regulatory enforcement
  • many local authority duties under Part IV of the UK Environment Act 1995 on air quality are not legally enforceable. Despite this, there have been successive legal challenges coordinated by the law firm Client Earth, for example in relation to nitrogen dioxide under the Ambient Air Quality Directive.
  • the legal framework is a patchwork of EU, UK and Welsh legislation, with multi-level and fragmented accountability
  • the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. This renders the future of air quality regulation uncertain at a time when research points to increasing environmental and human health impacts of rising concentrations of air pollutants. However, leaving the EU also presents opportunities to improve on regulation and enforcement 

Better data collection combined with better regulation, public information and engagement are needed. In Wales, some argue there are enhanced opportunities because of the additional overarching frameworks of the Wellbeing of Future Generations and the Rights of the Child.

The Policy Process
Welsh Government has been actively considering legislation on clean air. Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford has said that a necessary part of such legislation will be requirements aimed at better data collection to allow tracking of air quality over time.

A petition with 688 signatures was submitted by British Heart Foundation Cymru to the National Assembly for Wales, calling for adoption in Welsh law of WHO guidelines on clean air.

In December 2019 the Welsh Government published its Clean Air Plan for public consultation. The closing date for this consultation is 10 March 2020. After that, informed by responses to the consultation, Welsh Government will publish a White Paper. Following further consultation a Bill will be introduced, with a view to a Clean Air Act for Wales being enacted during 2021-22.