The Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill was introduced to the Senedd yesterday (Monday), giving the Welsh Government greater ability to tackle air and noise pollution.
The new Bill is part of a package of measures to improve the quality of the air environment in Wales as the World Health Organisation has described air and noise pollution as significant environmental risks to public health..
It will give powers to Welsh Government to introduce new long-term targets for air quality under a national framework taking account of the latest scientific knowledge including the World Health Organisation Air Quality Guidelines
The Bill will help create low emission zones on Welsh Government trunk roads where needed and will give local authorities more power to tackle vehicle idling.
Climate Change Minister Julie James said:“Our Programme for Government sets out a commitment to introduce a Clean Air Bill for Wales and I am delighted we have reached the first stage in our legislative journey which will lead the way to a cleaner, healthier and greener future.”
“By introducing this Bill, our ambition is to further improve air quality and soundscapes by bringing forward new measures to reduce the impacts of air and noise pollution on human health, biodiversity and the natural environment.”
“The scale and scope of the Bill reflects our commitment to improving the quality of our air environment at a Wales-wide level, at a local and regional level and throughout society.”
The Bill also proposes a progressive obligation on Welsh Ministers to introduce a national soundscapes strategy. Wales will be the first nation in the UK to make this commitment.
This will put onus on Welsh Government to make policies that not only tackle unwanted noise, but also protect sounds that matter to people, like the relaxing calls of birdsong and nature, or the welcoming hum of a vibrant town centre.
The soundscapes strategy is in response to emerging science on the impacts of sounds on our health and well-being, as well as that of animals. If passed, Wales will be the first country in the UK to introduce such plans.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk, globally. Long-term exposure over several years to air pollutants, including fine particles and nitrogen dioxide, can reduce life expectancy, contribute to the development of heart and lung disease and may cause lung cancer.. In children, it can reduce lung growth and aggravate asthma symptoms. It is estimated that the mortality burden of long‐term exposure to outdoor air pollution in Wales is equivalent to 1,200 to 2,000 deaths of people aged 30 years and over. It is important to note that these are not actual deaths; the estimate relates to air pollution being regarded as contributing to mortality.
So, where are these harmful pollutants coming from? They come from a range of sources, including our transport choices, the way we heat our homes, generate power, and the way our factories produce our goods. Air pollution can also contribute to climate change and is harmful to wildlife and the natural environment, including our plants and trees.
Unwanted or harmful sounds can disrupt sleep and increase levels of stress, irritation and fatigue, as well as interfering with important activities such as learning, working and relaxing. They can reduce people’s quality of life, and exposure to loud sounds can cause immediate or gradual hearing damage.
Exposure to noise in the long term can increase risk of high blood pressure, and its related illnesses including cardiovascular disease.
The Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill
The Bill covers eight different topics. In summary, it will:
- provide a framework for setting national air quality targets;
- amend existing legislation relating to:
- place a duty on Welsh Ministers to promote awareness of air pollution;
- place a duty on Welsh Ministers to publish a national soundscapes strategy, and
- give the Welsh Ministers a power to amend existing legislation relating to noise.
Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Sir Frank Atherton, said:“There is strong evidence that exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of serious illness and unwanted or harmful noise can not only cause hearing damage but also reduces our quality of life.
“Across government we are already taking action to improve the air we breathe and promote healthy soundscapes.
“The Bill goes further and aims to make our air cleaner and our sound environments better. This is why I fully endorse the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) Bill for Wales.”
The devil will be in the detail, say Welsh Conservatives
The charging powers are contained in the long-awaited bill paves the way towards new national targets on cutting pollution.
Commenting, Welsh Conservative Shadow Climate Change Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders MS said:
“We naturally welcome this step towards improving air quality in Wales as we are long overdue legislation in this area.
“However, it is clear from the wording of this Bill, that this is barely even a first step to introducing a comprehensive Clean Air Act, of the like the Welsh Conservatives have been calling for, for years.
“The Labour Government need to step up their game and as is the case with all legislation, the devil will be in the detail. Colleagues and I will be looking to see whether this Bill goes far enough to address the longstanding issues we face here in Wales.”
Campaigners welcome bill to clean up Wales’s dangerous air
Healthy Air Cymru welcomes the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill that is being introduced to the Senedd.
For the coalition of organisations and charities, which has long been campaigning for this bill, and the wider community affected by toxic air, this is the news they have been waiting for – a new law to make sure the air we all breathe in Wales is clean and healthy.
Joseph Carter, Chair of Healthy Air Cymru and Head of Asthma + Lung UK Cymru, said:
“We should be able to walk down the street knowing the air we breathe is safe and healthy. The Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill, introduced to the Senedd, is the crucial next step in making this happen.
“Air pollution is one of the most pressing public health issues we face, and it is especially damaging to our children’s developing lungs3. This clean air legislation is not only a huge win for Welsh lungs but also an important milestone in our journey towards a greener, fairer, and healthier future, where we walk and cycle more and use the car less. We call on all parties to work together to make this Bill as strong as possible.”
Haf Elgar, Vice Chair of Healthy Air Cymru and Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, said:
“We’ve long campaigned for legislation to clean up our air and introducing this bill to the Senedd is a big step forward.
“Air pollution is not only a public health issue, but also a social justice issue and an environmental issue. It affects the most vulnerable in our society who have done the least to cause it, and it is bad for the planet, with air pollution contributing to climate-wrecking emissions.
“But now we can look forward to a time when our air is healthy and safe. Healthy Air Cymru and other clean air campaigners will be working hard to ensure this clean air legislation will truly lead to a future that is greener, fairer, and healthier both for current and future generations.”
Lynn Gazal, parent to a 10-year-old and six-year-old in Caerphilly, said:
“We wholeheartedly welcome this bill. We are based in Caerphilly and our school journey takes us through some of the worst air quality readings in Wales which exceed three WHO limits.
“Walking through congestion, there are times I hold my breath. We always use back lanes to avoid the fumes. Then we are faced with the school car park, full of lagging engines.
“Driving, we are part of the problem due to a lack of any real sustainable options. I really worry about my children's lungs and the long-term health implications for all of us.”
Paula Dunster, Mum of two (aged four and seven) living in Cardiff, said:
“I am really pleased this bill is on the way to being in place for Wales. We walk or cycle our kids to school to reduce our impact on the air we breathe. We often forget about our air quality as we can’t see the pollutants that are around us. This is especially true for the small particulates that get into our lungs and blood stream.
“I am hoping this bill will help promote safe active travel, so we are less reliant on cars leading to less congestion around schools and better air quality. Having targets and clear actions to improve our air quality are great steps in the right direction.”