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Colleagues who are using LES as a best practice model within their organisation.

Martin Williams

Martin WilliamsLES Champion, Head of Atmospheric Quality and Industrial Pollution Programme at DEFRA

Why are low emission strategies important?

Air pollution is influenced by many sources and activities over a wide range of areas, regions and even countries and continents. Great strides have been made over the past few decades in reducing air pollution in our towns and cities, but problems still remain. There is still work to do in reducing air pollution impacts on ecosystems, and on the natural environment, but the largest remaining problems concern the health effects of pollution in our urban areas. Here the most important source is generally transport-related.

At an EU level, the so-called Euro standards for cars, light duty vehicles, HGVs and buses have ensured very large reductions from individual vehicles since their inception in the early 1970s. These improvements however have been counteracted by the increases in traffic activity over the past few decades. In order to make more rapid improvements in urban air quality arising from transport therefore, other approaches would be necessary. When we revised the Air Quality Strategy in 2007 we recognised it was important to work with the grain of climate change and land use and transport planning in order to attempt to secure optimal policies that made progress in attaining our goals in air quality, climate change and other areas. This is where Low Emissions Strategies are important. By concentrating attention on forward looking imaginative approaches to transport problems, involving fuels as well as technologies, we can begin to make a practical reality of transport solutions which benefit both local air quality and our emissions of greenhouse gases. Low emissions strategies which ensure air quality, as well as climate change concerns, are at the heart of developments and that action is directed towards a coherent and agreed approach to delivering shared goals is a very welcome step forward.

How do you see your role to champion them?

I want to ensure that the position I have as the leader of the air quality and industrial pollution programme in Defra is directed towards promoting a coherent and joined up strategy nationally which encourages, complements and supports action locally. We have had the system of Local Air Quality Management, given force by the Environment Act of 1995, in place for over ten years and it has been successful in raising awareness of air quality and of promoting actions in towns and cities across the country. However, we are now at a turning point where we need to ensure that those areas where we have important remaining problems are the focus of our attention and efforts. Within central government we can work to ensure that local measures, including Low Emissions Strategies, complement and enhance our actions at the national and international levels. I would like to use my role as a champion of Low Emission Strategies to make further progress in improving air quality over and above the measures we already have in place by encouraging the success of strategies already in place; to publicise and celebrate successful strategies across the UK and more widely internationally and to foster their wider development across the country.

What would you want to see planners and environmental practitioners doing to support LES?

Transport planners, land use planners and environmental practitioners are the key players on the ground for the delivery of Low emissions strategies. It is important that they work together in a coherent and complementary way to understand their different roles and what they can bring to improving air quality. Local air quality contributes significantly to quality of life and health and both transport planners and land use planners should be encouraged to consider the impacts of developments on air quality and the environment from conception through to completion and beyond. Wherever possible, transport planners and urban planners more generally by taking an imaginative longer-term view of the sustainable urban environment, can improve the liveability and quality of life in urban areas of the UK, with valuable benefits for air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental and health indicators.

Are there any exemplars you know of?

There are some strong exemplars of local authorities and groups of local authorities that work together in a coherent and concerted way to reduce emissions. The beacon authorities in particular are good examples of what can be achieved locally. Greenwich’s work on the peninsular project for example highlights the importance of building in consideration of air quality alongside other environmental impacts from the start of a project. This early consideration ensures that the planning and development of a proposal from inception to completion takes account of local air quality impacts and builds in the management of these all the way through the construction phase and beyond. The Care4Air group in South Yorkshire also show the benefits of working across local authority boundaries to reduce emissions. An important feature of this approach has been the communications and engagement of communities and citizens in the area affected by the strategy. Several others have shown that a low emissions approach can make a difference and are following innovative approaches. All this work is very important and I am pleased to be able to promote it and would like to take the opportunity to support everyone who is working hard to deliver low emission strategies on the ground.

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