Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith

Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee

04/05/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Delyth Jewell
Huw Irranca-Davies
Janet Finch-Saunders
Jenny Rathbone
Joyce Watson
Llyr Gruffydd Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Dr Sarah Jones Iechyd Cyhoeddus Cymru
Public Health Wales
Dr Victoria Jenkins Prifysgol Abertawe
Swansea University
Ian Jones Cyfarwyddwyr Diogelu'r Cyhoedd Cymru
Directors of Public Protection Wales
Joseph Carter Asthma and Lung UK
Asthma and Lung UK
Matthew Vaux Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Welsh Local Government Association
Yr Athro Enda Hayes Prifysgol Gorllewin Lloegr
University of the West of England
Yr Athro Gwyneth Davies Coleg Brenhinol y Meddygon
Royal College of Physicians
Steven Manning Cyngor Dinas Casnewydd
Newport City Council
Tom Price Cyngor Abertawe
Swansea Council

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon, a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions, and declarations of interest

Bore da. Croeso ichi i gyd i Bwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Croeso i Aelodau i'r cyfarfod. Mae hwn, wrth gwrs, yn cael ei gynnal ar fformat hybrid, ac, ar wahân i addasiadau yn ymwneud â chynnal y trafodion mewn fformat hybrid, mae'r holl ofynion eraill o ran y Rheolau Sefydlog yn aros yn eu lle. Mae eitemau cyhoeddus y cyfarfod yma, wrth gwrs, yn cael eu darlledu'n fyw ar Senedd.tv, ac mae'r Cofnod o'r Trafodion yn mynd i gael ei gyhoeddi, wrth gwrs, yn ôl arfer ar ôl y cyfarfod. Mae e'n gyfarfod dwyieithog, ac felly mae yna gyfieithu ar y pryd o'r Gymraeg i'r Saesneg ar gael. Gaf i ofyn ar y cychwyn yn fan hyn os oes gan unrhyw Aelod fuddiannau i'w datgan? Huw.

Good morning. Welcome, all, to the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. Welcome, Members, to the meeting. This is, of course, is being held in a hybrid format, and, aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in a hybrid format, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items of this meeting, of course, are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and the Record of Proceedings will be published as usual after the meeting. It is a bilingual meeting, and therefore there is simultaneous translation from Welsh to English available. May I ask at the start like this whether any Members have declarations of interest? Huw.

Chair, could I declare my chairmanship of the active travel cross-party group? They've submitted evidence pertinent to today's inquiry, which I may refer to later on.

There we are, okay.

Iawn, diolch yn fawr iawn. Dyna ni.

Okay, thank you very much.

2. Bil yr Amgylchedd (Ansawdd Aer a Seinweddau) (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 1
2. The Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill - evidence session 1

Iawn, felly ymlaen â ni at yr ail eitem, lle rŷn ni, wrth gwrs, yn cynnal ein sesiwn dystiolaeth gyntaf yn ymwneud â Bil yr Amgylchedd (Ansawdd Aer a Seinweddau) (Cymru) fel rhan o waith craffu Cyfnod 1 y Bil. Fe gofiwch chi ein bod ni wedi derbyn tystiolaeth gan y Gweinidog ar ddiwedd tymor y gwanwyn, ac mi fyddwn ni hefyd, wrth gwrs, yn clywed ganddi ymhellach ar ddiwedd y cyfnod cyntaf yma. Ond, yn ymddangos o'n blaenau ni heddiw mae gennym ni ddau academydd dwi'n siŵr sy'n mynd i gyfrannu at y gwaith o graffu ar y Bil, ac felly croeso i Dr Victoria Jenkins, sy'n athro cyswllt y gyfraith gyda Phrifysgol Abertawe, a’r Athro Enda Hayes, sydd yn athro mewn ansawdd aer a rheoli carbon ym Mhrifysgol Gorllewin Lloegr. Croeso mawr i'r ddau ohonoch chi a diolch ichi am ddod atom ni. Mi awn ni'n syth i gwestiynau, a dwi'n gwybod bod Janet Finch-Saunders am ofyn y cwestiwn cyntaf. Diolch.

We move on to the second item where, of course, we're holding our first evidence session relating to the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill as part of Stage 1 scrutiny of the Bill. You'll remember that we received evidence from the Minister at the end of the spring term, and we will be hearing from her again at the end of this first stage. But, before us today we have two academics who I'm sure are going to contribute to the scrutiny work, and therefore I welcome Dr Victoria Jenkins, associate professor in law with Swansea University, and Professor Enda Hayes, who is a professor of air quality and carbon management in the University of the West of England. A very warm welcome to you both and thank you for joining us. We'll go straight to questions, and I know that Janet Finch-Saunders wants to ask the first question. Thank you.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, bore da. Is the Bill, as currently drafted, sufficiently ambitious to lead to significant improvement in air quality in Wales and soundscapes? And if not, why not?

A nice easy question to start. So, air quality and the challenge of dealing with air quality is not new. Since the Environment Act 1995, which is 25 years ago, we've been trying to address this challenge and, to be very honest, we have fundamentally failed. We're very good at diagnosing the problem; we're just not very good at solving it. Now, there are elements of this Bill that I think are going to have a fundamental effect, a positive effect on that challenge. Part of the issues around the Environment Act was the wording of the Act—that you had to work in 'pursuit' of the air quality objectives. We now have got stronger language saying that we have to 'secure' them. So, that's good. Updating of the strategy on a more regular basis, evidence-based targets I think are all really, really positive steps. The bit that worries me is I get a tone from the Bill that we're almost starting from scratch, and we're not. We've got 25-30 years of evidence behind us, which means, I think, we can be a lot more ambitious in terms of the timelines, the targets and how we are going to get there. So, it's Marmite for me at the moment, because there are some bits that I think are really, really good and will solve a lot of the issues and will help us progress in terms of addressing the problems, but it just feels like we can do more.

Okay. And we'll come on to some of those individual issues, I'm sure. Dr Jenkins.

My interest in this Bill is in relation to how we balance, and my interest generally in terms of environmental law is how we create that balance between giving policy makers and giving Government the discretion to take action to achieve something, but at the same time ensuring accountability. So, that's where I think law may have done us a disservice in the past, and that, moving forward, we need more innovative approaches in that respect. And, from that perspective, I think there are, again, some good bits of this Bill, which are really attempting to put into place a robust framework. I should say I've been an environmental academic lawyer for over 20 years, but I don't specialise in air quality law specifically, so I'm less familiar with the science, but that's why Professor Hayes is here. So, I would say it makes it a little bit trickier for me to talk about the ambition of the Bill in those circumstances, but I'm here to discuss the framework and how it sits today in terms of that balance between discretionary powers and accountability.

09:35

Excellent. We will indeed be pursuing some of those points, as well, in a moment, but I'll come to Huw.

Thank you, Chair. I want to go through a specific point right at the outset, which is the scope of the Bill. You touched on the point about starting from scratch. Well, actually, we have various policies in place. One of them is the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013. I declared my interest earlier on there. Now, the active travel group have submitted evidence to this about whether we need to finish some unfinished business that could have been done at the time of the original active travel Act. It's to do with things such as duties to promote active travel, which we've failed to do, et cetera. Now, within the Bill, the Bill addresses two specific, distinct purposes—and my thanks for the briefing note on this—improving air quality, and assessing and managing noise. The cross-party group submission makes the point that Welsh Government state that, in their clean air plan, transport is now the largest source of nitrogen oxides in Wales, predominantly due to emissions from road transport, accounting for approximately one third of emissions, and also, within the explanatory memorandum to the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill, it states that our 27 noise maps suggest the homes of more than 200,000 people across Wales are exposed to road traffic noise levels exceeding the World Health Organization's 2009 night-noise guidelines, and make the point that the most significant way to deal with this is shifting people away from road use, motorised vehicles, into active travel, walking and cycling, and they suggest some amendments. Have you had time to look at that? Sorry for the extensive preamble, but have you had time to look at that, to express an opinion as to whether you think amendments on active travel would fall within the scope of this Bill? And if you haven't—and I realise you may not—would you be able to go away and have a look at this to see whether you think that those may fall within the scope, because the Llywydd will ultimately have to make a decision on this?

I haven't had a chance to look at it before coming today. I do think that the active travel legislation is significant in the context of air quality and public health, and from my perspective, as an environmental lawyer as well, it's particularly important in bringing together our objectives in Wales in relation to both public health and environmental protection. So, it's certainly, from that perspective, something that I would consider important.

I haven't had a chance to look at it either, but what I would say is that when you're looking at solutions, particularly for transport, active travel is essential. You've got to get to that point. I think, for years, we've been very much orientated in our solutions towards technocentric solutions. So, these are cleaner vehicles, cleaner fuels. That will only get us so far; the scale of the problem here means that we have to look at behavioural interventions, which means getting more people out of vehicles, onto bikes, and out of cars. That's a given. There are a lot of things you have to address to get around that: affordability, accessibility, reliability—all those things that come with public transport—and safety issues around active travel infrastructure, things like that. It's essential. If we're going to solve this problem, then we've got to deal with it.

The other point that I might add, if I may, is that what we're dealing with here is a public health issue. It's a public health issue. So, if you're looking at active travel interventions, those interventions will have the core benefits of also working towards better public health. So, it isn't just about improving air quality; it's also the benefits you get elsewhere. So, it's essential, in my mind.

Rather than delay the committee, then, Chair—and thank you for those answers; so, in principle, you've got no objection and, in fact, you can see the benefits of it—I wonder if I could, perhaps, be cheeky enough to ask you to go away and look at it, perhaps discuss it with colleagues in law and whatever to see whether you think it falls within the scope of the two aims of this Bill.

Thank you. Janet, did you want to come back in on something? And then we'll come back to Huw.

Yes. Thank you, Chair. All it was, when we take evidence during the forming of new Bills, quite often, one thing that comes up is that we haven't collected enough data. Now, you say that we look like we're almost at the start again, but a lot of years have gone before. Has the Welsh Government been proactive in collecting the relevant data so that any Bill going forward will be based on really good evidence, if you like?

I can start there. You can always get more data, is the short answer. You can always have more, it can always be better. Across Wales, if we're looking at air quality monitoring data, we've got a pretty extensive network of monitoring sites. I think, from memory, there are about fortyish continuous analysers run by local authorities, and about 10 to 12 analysers connected to the automatic urban and rural network. There's plenty of data already out there. Now, that can always be improved, and I think the tone of the Bill means that we'll have to think differently about how we monitor. So, at the moment, we've monitored for compliance, we've monitored where we've got problematic areas, where we've got these hotspots, where we've got these risks of exceedances. This Bill, again, seems to be more orientated towards prevention, being more proactive—again, the public health side of the issue—which means we have to think differently about how we monitor in terms of understanding public health, and bringing that air quality, health, deprivation triple jeopardy into the equation. So, we've got plenty to start from; we can always have more, and we will have to think differently because the Bill is orientating our approach slightly differently.

09:40

Let me come on, then, to ask for your views on the Welsh Government's decision, as it stands, to set air quality targets in regulations rather than on the face of the Bill. And their argument is that this will give greater flexibility to respond to the latest guidance and to futureproof the Bill. Do you have sympathy with that or would you prefer to see air quality targets bang on the face of the Bill?

I think this is a question for me in the sense that, if you say too much on the face of primary legislation like this, then you are impinging your discretion to take action as things proceed and as scientific knowledge and understanding moves on. So, it is often a good idea to create a power to introduce regulations. That said, the issue then becomes, well, to what extent do you give the Government discretion, or the Executive discretion, to bring in those regulations and what's the framework for that. So, currently, there is quite a lot of discretion now given to the Executive in that respect, and that's something that you might want to consider further.

So, how would you suggest that we limit that discretion and that we have a good baseline going upwards rather than a baseline that allows flexibility for a future Minister to say, 'This is too tough; we're asking too much of people'?

Well, at the moment, you have a power to introduce the regulations. So, once you give someone a power, if you don't put a time frame on whether or not that power is exercised, then it might never be exercised. So, that's one thing you might want to consider.

The other issue is that we don't necessarily want to set out exactly what pollutants we want those regulations to target, but we could have something in there about the fact that they need to target those pollutants that are an issue, and we want these regulations to achieve certain objectives in terms of tackling air pollution. So, you could frame it more clearly in that way, to ensure that the regulations will be brought into being and that they will aim to achieve certain objectives.

Okay, so we should circumscribe a future Minister's discretion, make clear what flexibility we would allow, and also the question of making sure that it comes back to the Senedd for any changes, ratcheting up and so on. Other than PM2.5, the Bill doesn't require Welsh Government to set targets for other pollutants or to prescribe the pollutants for which targets should be set. So, what are your views on this? You just touched on one aspect of that.

Well, I've just said that, if you say on the face of this Bill exactly what pollutants, then, in future, unless you're going to give a power to add to that list, then it's going to be difficult, because this legislation is going to have longevity, isn't it, and you need to make sure that we can move on when new pollutants arise. So, one of the issues that has arisen during the consultation on the White Paper was this issue of ammonia. So, that could be a challenge in the future, and we need to make sure that this Bill is one that could address that, if necessary, in the future. So, that's what we need to try to achieve with this.

I understand the importance of constraining policy makers in the powers they have, but my concern about this Bill is that it's setting the bar so high in terms of it has to be objectively measured and it has to specify a date by which the standard is to be achieved. It doesn't feel like the precautionary approach is being taken here, given that we know that this is an urgent public health matter, so how do you—? It feels like this could be a prescription for doing nothing, because there's never enough information about exactly what we know.

Well, that is the problem. If you're overly prescriptive and you don't get the balance right, then the problem might be that we're not ambitious enough in the targets that we introduce, and that's where we're trying to get the balance here. So, it's novel to say that we want to have targets that are achievable and that will be achieved, and, ultimately, that's what we want; you know, targets are no good if we don't meet them. But at the same time, if you do that and if you have very strict responsibilities placed on Government to achieve these targets, then you have to balance that with some discretion, and that's why there are provisions for exceptions, et cetera. So, it's just about the balance and how to get the balance right, and that's what I've discussed in the evidence that I've given.

09:45

Huw has brought in about the PM2.5 target, other than just one part. Do you agree with the tight three-year timescale for setting this, and—yes, just following on from Huw, really—should there be a timescale for the introduction of other pollutant targets? If so, what should it be?

Well, I just said I thought maybe we should have a timescale, but as to the timescale—.

If I've understood the Bill correctly, I've got issues with the timescale. I'll try and do the sums in my head as I work my way through. So, we assume the Bill goes through and it gets signed off, Royal Assent, and it starts in 2024, for argument's sake. You've then got three years to put a target in—that's 2027. You've then got 10 years to try and achieve that—that's 2037. If you don't achieve it, you have to write a report within 12 months, to 2038, and then the phrase is that it needs to be achieved 'as soon as reasonably practicable'. What does that mean?

Yes, you've got that five years later. My daughter is doing her GCSEs; she's 30 by the time we figure out whether we've addressed this issue or not. Given that we've all, I hope, agreed that this is a pretty important public health issue that we have to deal with—1,000 to 1,400 deaths per year—that's a long timescale, where we might achieve something. I've got issues with that. And again, it I think it goes back to the fact that we've already got a lot of knowledge, a lot of evidence, a lot of science, so I think we can accelerate that.

If we're looking at PM2.5, for example, there are modelled background concentrations of PM2.5 across Wales, and I think the highest measure is about 10 or 11 µg of PM2.5. That's modelled, so there's a caveat with that. But also, the Welsh Government produced a report back in 2021, where they looked at the three PM2.5 sites that have been running for the longest period, and they're in—shall I use the phrase 'problematic areas'—Port Talbot/Margam, Cardiff centre, and Newport near the M4 and the Brynglas tunnels. If you look at that data, we're measuring about 10 or 12 µg across there. The World Health Organization guideline is 10. We've got enough evidence. I think that we can be brave, shall I say, now, and in three years' time, you can go back and revisit the target and be a bit more ambitious. But I think there's enough evidence to say that we can actually accelerate this timescale and move it forward.

The other issue I've got is what we've learnt from 20 years of local air quality management is that, if you set a target 10 years into the future, you get inaction in those early stages and then you panic a little bit as you get towards the end. We have to think about how we learn from those lessons, how we avoid those same things happening again—so, where are the interim targets, where are the interim measures, where are the interim steps that you need to take, to try and make sure that you don't get to 2038 and we haven't got there.

The other question comes back to yours, which is who's accountable, who holds the Welsh Government to account if you don't get there. Are the Welsh Government going to mark their own homework on this? There needs to be something, a body that holds them to account, and I'm not seeing that here as well. So, I've got concerns with this. This is an issue we know about, it's a public health crisis that we know about, and we're setting timelines for 15 years into the future. I understand that interventions and action take time, but we can do better than that, in my opinion.

I think there is an interesting issue on that that I made in terms of this PM2.5, which is that the legislation says there that we can have a shorter term target. Why would we have a shorter term target for that if everything else has to have a longer term target? I'm not clear on why that's the case. If that's something that might need a shorter term target, then how do we know, if we're futureproofing, that in the future we won't have something else that might need a shorter term target? So, that's something that didn't quite add up to me. And I would also very strongly make the point as well about this need for an environmental body to hold the Government to account, which is something that Wales doesn't have.

09:50

And that's another piece of work that we're pursuing as well. Thank you. I'll bring Delyth in at this point.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Can I ask you on that point about the danger of having such a lead-in time before we might actually see the results that we'd need to see? Can you point us to a precedent globally where a comparable change has been brought in that would have had something like comparable complexities, but it was actually done in a much shorter time frame, so that we could urge the Welsh Government to learn from that example? Or, indeed, a bad example, where the momentum was lost precisely because of this reason.

Globally, I'm not sure. I think that's a question I'd have to go away and think about and see what I can find. We can look from our own history in terms of the air quality objectives and the limit values to realise what happens when you have these long timelines in place, and it goes back to the earlier point about active travel and the importance of it. The Environment Act is 1995, local air quality management started around 1998-99, we had air quality objectives in, if you look at nitrogen dioxide, I think it was 2005. We had limit values for 2010. They're still exceeded today in 2023. So, having those long-term targets is fine, but you also need those interim steps in place to try and make sure that you're on track, and you're not trying to leave it all to the end.

And again, I do support the idea of a target-setting framework. I support the idea of the flexibility that you don't want something written into a Bill or into an Act that doesn't allow you to adapt to the science and to the evidence. But I just think we need something a bit more tangible and accountable in the short term and in the long term, and I'm struggling to see that here. 

Picking up that precise point, actually, and following on from some of the earlier questioning, do you think that the Bill should state explicitly that targets set will be consistent with World Health Organization guidelines? I note that, Dr Jenkins, you've said that there's a danger of impinging on your discretion for the future, but conversely, what do you think the risks would be of not being explicit about that on the face of the Bill, please?

The World Health Organization is an organisation that's been in place for a very long time, and is going to be in place for a very long time. So, it is perhaps an exception to the general rule, and if the scientists think that that is something that we should be following, then there would be an argument for doing that, and for making that exception. 

Thank you for that. The Minister has said that the Welsh Government doesn't know yet whether it's possible to achieve WHO guidelines everywhere in Wales, and how this could be achieved if it is possible. Taking on board what you've just said, what would be your response to that, please?

I can jump in. The WHO guidelines consider the health effects only, and the guidelines are set around that. What happens is governments take the WHO guidelines, and then look at them in the perspective of societal factors, economic factors, those wider influences that need to be considered. At which point you then get air quality objectives or targets that tend to be higher than the WHO level. So, I think the WHO is a good guideline, which is why they use the word 'guidelines'. It certainly, in my opinion, can be quite an ambitious target if you wanted to go down that route. But there are wider consequences that you need to take into consideration, and this is where you have lots of other evidence bases that you can draw from: the committee for the medical effects of air pollution here in the UK; I know the Welsh Government has a clean air advisory board that can help with that. There are wider things that you need to consider. You can't just take the WHO and say, 'That's what we're after'. Certainly, it would set quite a bit of ambition if you did. 

And a more general point on that as well is that, as soon as you start listing organisations like that, then that becomes the focus, and then that does sometimes impinge on the fact that you might want to consider other organisations.

One of the things that does emerge from the Bill is that it is pretty much public health focused. I'm not saying that public health is not important, but I'm an environmental lawyer and we are in a climate crisis. This air pollution is also affecting nature, and we don't really know a huge amount about the complexities of that at the moment because it is such a difficult issue, isn't it, in terms of what the consequences are for nature. But that evidence will be emerging over time, and we really need to make sure that we take account of that and that we do all that we can to use this legislation to achieve the results that we can in terms of adapting to climate change, for nature. So, that's another reason not to be quite so specific.    

09:55

Thank you, Chair. I'm just really taken with your earlier comment that this needs some sort of independent oversight—some body, or whatever. The Minister sitting in front will push back and say, 'The last thing that we need is some other independent oversight body', and the commentators will say, 'Another expensive, bureaucratic quango' or whatever. The Climate Change Committee, of course, is a very good model, but it's extremely well resourced and massive. There are other ways of doing this, including something that looks more like not just an advisory body, but an independent assessment body that will run the rule across lean, mean and green, which looks at this. Have you got any views on what such a body would look like to be effective? You have both said, I think, that you would support some sort of independent oversight. The Minister would say, 'This committee can do it'. Well, we are time limited. The Minister would say, 'The Senedd can do it.' That's time limited. So, what are your thoughts on what a body could look like? I'm not talking about an all-encompassing environmental oversight body. That will come at some point, hopefully. 

I think that this should very much be the responsibility of that general environmental oversight body. I think that the argument for that has been made very clearly. I have given evidence twice on that now, about the significance of that body and what that body might look like. I have also given evidence on the importance of having a Welsh body, as opposed to—. There was an argument at one time that it should be a body for the UK. I have argued that this shouldn't be a responsibility for the future generations commissioner, and that we do need a separate body. I do think that we do really need that.

Yes. I think that it's a much wider issue, and that this would be an important element of the work of that body.

I wouldn't argue with that—a wider body with a dedicated theme.

There we are. Thank you for that. Delyth, did you want to come back on anything? 

Just one final point, please. Professor Hayes, you were talking about how someone doing their GCSEs—was it your daughter—now would be a fully fledged adult by the time that we would actually see some results. This has already been touched on, but what are your views—the two of you—on the power that is there for Welsh Ministers in the future to revoke or lower targets? When we have got these long lead-in times, we can't know what the make-up of future Governments might be. Who knows? There might be a seismic change in the demographics of politics in Wales. We can't know that a Government couldn't come in in the future that would actually be destructive in this way. Do you think that there are enough safeguards at present? And again, if there are any international examples, or an example in our own history, that you would point us towards that we should be learning the lessons from with that, please. Or if it's just science fiction as well, I suppose. 

On international examples, I can't think of any off the top of my head. There are lots of countries that are well behind us in terms of their air quality pathway, if you like, in terms of trying to tackle this. I think that what we have seen in our history, when we look at air quality objectives and targets, is that we have been incrementally making them tighter. Some have been in place for years, but we have generally been following the scientific evidence to let that dictate where this should be. Whether we have achieved them or not is another story, but we have generally allowed the evidence to dictate where they are. I don't think that we have got any examples in our history where we said, 'Well, today it's 40; tomorrow we'll make it 60 because 40 is too hard.' So, I don't necessarily have many concerns there. But the nature of this Bill is that it's going to be potentially in place for a long, long time, which means society is going to change, our climate is going to change, our science and our understanding is going to change. So, I think you do have to have that element of flexibility in there to allow you to follow the evidence and to let that dictate where things are. That cannot, however, be a 'get out of jail free' clause. 

10:00

I was just going to say, in terms of the Bill, in terms of longer term targets, one of the things that we, often, are critical of, is the fact that we are in a system where the political time frame dictates what we're doing instead of the longer term time frame. So, from that perspective, we do have to welcome longer term targets with all the problems that Professor Hayes has already pointed out. But we do have to, I think, welcome this idea of long-term thinking, because that is ultimately what we need. And, like you say, this Bill does refer quite clearly to achievable targets, which are going to be achieved. If you put that into law, then you are creating a significant obligation that is now enforceable, so you have to accept that there are going to be exceptions. The exceptions at the moment are written as 'no significant benefit' if the target is met and otherwise that this might be disproportionate in terms of economic, social and environmental cost. Proportionality, when it comes to economic cost, is always a difficult one, and it may be that that's the area to think about: maybe strengthening the words there, so that it's not just a balance, it's more of a serious disproportionate effect or something to tip the balance slightly to make sure that that's not used in the way that you described in the future. Sorry, the way that you described in the future.

Thank you. Right. We've talked a lot about these subjects now. Janet, was there anything in particular you wanted to pick up on?

No. I'm happy with what I've heard, because it does cover a lot of the other questions I was going to ask.

Okay. There we are. Thank you. We wanted to look more specifically maybe at the national air quality strategy, and we've touched on review periods, haven't we, really? I was just wondering if you believe it's necessary for the Welsh Ministers to have the power to change the review period for the national air quality strategy by regulations. And should the proposal in the White Paper for the strategy to be reviewed and published at least every five years have been included in the Bill?

It seems to make sense to me to have the review of the long-term targets and the review of the strategy and everything to match up, doesn't it? It seems to make sense to do that. And I agree with the point that was made about at that point reporting to the Senedd for the purposes of accountability. So, there might be a question of, 'Well, why would we put this into this legislation, because there are lots of these responsibilities in all sorts of legislation?' As we know, Welsh law now is a bit of a mess, to be honest, because it's all over the place, given the way that devolution has evolved in Wales. But, that said, if we do put it into this legislation, then we would have the opportunity perhaps to change that provision more readily in the future, if we decided that we needed reviews more quickly than the five years. So, there is an argument for that, yes. 

There we are. Okay. Okay. Thank you. Janet, did you want to pick up on this?

Do you think the Bill should include a requirement for the Welsh Ministers to report on progress towards delivery of the clean air plan and strategy? And, again, how often should progress be reported?

As I said, I think, to align this with the five-year requirement currently would be a good idea, and I do think that that is a form of accountability that is important, yes.

And, also, Healthy Air Cymru has expressed concern that the duty for designated public authorities 'to have regard to' the strategy isn't strong enough. So, do you share that view? And, if so, how could or should the duty be strengthened? 

I can jump in there. An absolute 'yes'. First of all, on the timeline, I think five years makes sense as a review timeline.

When we look at air quality data, you will get natural variations year on year, because of meteorological conditions. COVID is the perfect example, where we saw air quality drop and it's climbed back up again. So, you don't want a shorter period than five years, because you need to be able to look at meaningful trends, and also action takes time. You don't want to overburden with reporting. So, I think that timeline, first of all, makes sense.

There is a disconnection that I'm seeing here in the Bill between the national air quality strategy and what's happening at the local level. I don't see much in terms of a local requirement for local authorities to pick up on that. If we look at the process as it currently stands, we have the local air quality management process in place. If you identify an exceedance, you've got to declare an air quality management area. If you do that, you have to develop an action plan, and this is where you implement your actions to improve air quality. What happens if you don't have an air quality management area? What does that local authority do? Well, not a whole lot. Yes, there are actions that are put in place through transport policies and other areas, but they're just reporting every year on the state of air quality. Now, again, the nature of this Bill is more towards preventative, it's more towards public health, it's more towards being proactive. So, you need to have a mechanism at a local or a regional level whereby, even if you don't identify a hotspot, you're still taking action, you're still trying to improve air quality in an area. So, I think there's a disconnect between having a national air quality strategy and needing something, a mechanism at a local or a regional level so that you can localise that strategy and actually start to put those interventions in place. At the moment, I'm not seeing that.

10:05

So, where does that—? So, going on to local air quality management then, where does that leave local air quality management, because that regime, really—? Are you saying it's not effective, or the Bill doesn't really improve it or strengthen it?

So, it's been in place for 20-plus years. It's an incredibly efficient process. We've got very good at diagnosing the problems; as I've said, we're not very good at solving them. It's quite prescriptive in terms of technical guidance and policy guidance. Local authorities have been doing it for 20, 25 years, they know what they're doing, it's fine.

But the LAQM process is a very reactive process, so you measure, you identify a hotspot, you see your air quality management area and you implement it. It's not a proactive approach and a preventative approach. So, fundamentally, local air quality management, in my opinion, needs a complete redesign. We need to look at it again, and we need to look at where you balance that proactive and reactiveness. It still needs to have an understanding of where the hotspots are. It still needs to have targeted action to try and mitigate those areas. It's designed around compliance: 40 is bad, 39.9 is good, dare I say it, but it doesn't do more. If we're looking at longer term targets, if we're looking at being proactive, if we're looking at truly tackling public health, then it has to do more than that.

So, annual reviews, that's just tinkering around the sidelines, really; it's not fundamentally addressing—

Annual reviews are fine. Every local authority has to produce an annual air quality status report, that's absolutely fine—no problem whatsoever with that. It's good to get that evidence together and there's a promote-awareness element to this Bill as well, so that's a good evidence base that you can use to promote awareness around air quality, but it doesn't implement action, it doesn't drive change, and that's where the process is a little bit stale. It was designed around compliance; it was not designed around the ambitions of this Bill.

Thank you. Moving forward, and we're talking about local air quality management, there are, as you've mentioned, lots of players in this, lots of considerations that have to be given. One of those considerations, of course, would be planning, when you're planning a space, spatial planning. Are you satisfied that that element of planning, particularly, would be effective, perhaps, in addressing some of this? Because you get a concentration in a given area on a plan that you know, before you allow that to happen, is going to pollute the air, whether that's a drive-through McDonald's, for example—a very good example, I think; there are other drive-throughs, I will say—or a concentration of housing in a given place where there's no public transport aligned to it. So, that's what was going through my mind when you were talking about local air quality management. So, are you satisfied that, within this Bill, there would be an onus on local planning, and then of course more national planning, to take note of it?

10:10

So, at the moment, we are then relying on the planning system to do what you were talking about in terms of the preventative strategy going forward, in terms of air quality management. So, the question becomes whether you rely on that system or whether you have something separate in terms of if we're talking about strengthening this duty. At the moment, it's a 'have regard' to a national strategy. You could have a duty to introduce a local air quality strategy that would then be taken into account in the land-use planning system. The question is whether really we need that, or whether we can rely on the land-use planning system as it currently is, but that system is based on balancing lots of different objectives and bringing on board lots of different information.

It's interesting that the biodiversity duty and the strengthening of the biodiversity duty has meant that we are collecting a lot more data and evidence in relation to that, and bringing it into land-use planning. So, whether that's something that we could emulate here to highlight issues in terms of air quality, and then to be able to bring them into the land-use planning system and to ensure that this all works together, but we've always got to remember that every time you introduce a duty to create a strategy or an action plan, there's a resource issue there, and we don't want this to become process orientated instead of action orientated, which would then work against what we've just been talking about.

And just on the have regard duty, I think that sometimes there's a different perspective as a lawyer about a have regard duty than there would be about someone who wasn't familiar with that. There is a consequence to a have regard duty; you can challenge someone's action if they haven't taken it into account. So, although in normal language, 'have regard' seems a bit like, 'Oh, well, I regarded it, but I ignored it', and yes, there is an element of that, but in law, you do actually have to have regard to a strategy, so it's perhaps a stronger duty than we might think.

The alternative would be to include provisions that referred, for example, to taking reasonable steps to implement a strategy. So, that would be another way of phrasing this, which might—. Like I say, it might not necessarily be that different in law, but maybe it would be more different in terms of people's perspective on that, because then it gives you the impression that you have to do something, more than just—not 'just', but more than to look at the national strategy and respond to it.

Okay, thank you. I'm mindful that we've got about half an hour left, and there are a large number of areas that we still haven't covered. So, Huw, very briefly, then Janet briefly, and then we'll move on to Delyth.

You helpfully just answered the question I was going to ask in terms of the national air quality strategy, and different wording that could be used to change the emphasis. Is there anything that could be done in the Bill, do you think, on the local air quality management obligations as well?

In terms of the local air quality management obligation, I did note as well that the responsibility to review plans is—there is no time frame for it. But, again, if you look at the realities of the current situation, you have to question what the current situation is, and, again, we don't want this to become process orientated rather than action orientated, and that's the problem there.

To pick up on this point, there's nothing there where we could tweak the wording to make it less 'hit the baseline', and more 'actively promote improvement'?

From my perspective, I would say you'd have to look at having a different method of ensuring it. Because this is—we're looking at plans that only focus, as you say, on air quality management areas, so it's how we ensure that we are looking at air quality across a local authority area, and we've discussed then how we might do that.

And I think, on LAQM, the big one is that change of wording from the original Act, which was 'in pursuit of the objectives', because that was, you write a plan, you're in pursuit of it. Whereas actually changing that to using the word 'secure', you have to do it. So, I think that was a major problem with the LAQM process in terms of actually solving the problem. So, I think that's a big step and a big improvement in the wording. But the process needs to be changed. And there are examples out there; there's actually quite a lot of good research that's been done already in Wales about how you can have a more public health orientated approach and proactive approach to these sorts of issues. So, I think a lot of those sorts of things, around how you improve LAQM, can be picked up in statutory guidance that might follow afterwards.

10:15

Yes. Thank you for your evidence. What are your views on the extent to which this Bill will improve public engagement and education about air quality and its impacts on health and well-being?

Well, I would imagine that we are relying there on the duty to promote awareness in Wales. So, it's promote awareness in Wales of

'the risks to human health and the natural environment',

and

'reducing or limiting air pollution'.

So, there's a duty there to ensure that we do something. It's not particularly specific, but again, the question is to what extent do we need it or want it to be specific, and how we might respond to that. Again, guidance could be really significant here. There isn't a requirement for that, but yes. It is quite vague, but the question is: does it need to be?

I think that the phrase, 'promote awareness', is quite a passive phrase. I've done a lot of work around public engagement in relation to air quality, and the evidence that was behind this seemed to—. If you look at public engagement, there are three models of engagement. You've got transmit and receive models, which is what Government does already and does quite well. So, your transmit model is that you put evidence on a website, you send it out there and people engage with it. You don't really worry about who's engaging with it or how they're doing it; you've met your duty by putting it on a website. The receive model is kind of what we're doing now—it's surveys, consultations. You've got this time-limited period where you have engagements with certain people and you pick up evidence that way. Well, they're quite passive, quite traditional approaches. Public engagement evidence or processes—the exciting space is in that collaboration space, where you actually work with different communities. You work with different organisations to really drive forward, going beyond awareness and actually giving people a greater sense of ownership of the problem and a greater sense of ownership of the solution. Now, going back all the way to the very beginning, we talked about active travel. The only way you're going to get to the point of changing people's behaviour is actually giving them ownership of the problem and the solution. So, for me, 'promote awareness' just feels a little bit passive, and I can think we can do an awful lot more.

The final point I'd add to that is that, like air quality science, public engagement science is changing, and changing quite rapidly. We've seen the emergence of citizen science, community science, public participation and activities, and the wording here seems to be very unidirectional; it's very much about, 'We will give you evidence'. Well, actually, the public can create an awful lot of evidence, which can support the Government in their ambitions as well. So, I think we need to be a little bit more open and receptive to those sorts of approaches. They're not without their flaws, but it is an emerging area that can produce quite a lot of exciting insights and activities.

But I would add to that. In Wales, of course, we do have a principle; we have the principles of involvement and collaboration that run through everything that the Government does, so that is something that is in addition to this.

I'll just bring Delyth in on this, and then Jenny wants to come in as well.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. This is essential, isn't it, because so much of what we've been talking about already this morning will seem—. Well, it is very technical, but it's one of these things that has a really indelible and immediate impact on people's health. Are there specific changes in the Bill that you would like to see in order to strengthen these provisions so that we get exactly what you've just been talking about, so that we actually have people engaging with this and not just feeling like it's something that is being done to them, but that they want to be part of solving this and that behavioural change comes about not just because it's being forced onto people, but that people understand more about why our behaviours have to change and that they feel empowered? Do you think that there are changes specifically in the Bill that could help shift that dynamic, please?

I've got to be honest; I'd have to go back and read it again with that question in the back of my head to think about that. At the moment, if we look at technical guidance, there's nothing in there about promoting awareness, not that I'm aware of. It's very much about how we measure it and analyse air pollution. If we look at the policy guidance, there's not a whole lot in there. The English policy guidance does have a more detailed section on public engagement. So, I think we could pick up quite a lot in statutory guidance, once it's ready, in terms of how you actually do this. But it has to be more than just putting information on a website. It has to be more than an annual Clean Air Day—that's just one engagement, people disengage and they move away from it. They're great as headline activities, but they don't have that continual engagement.

We could do so much more in schools. We could do so much more with organisations like Healthy Air Cymru to actually empower them to work with local authorities. Local authorities measure air pollution in their administrative areas every year. They produce a report, they stick it on a website. There's a huge amount of evidence there that we could do in terms of helping the public interpret, translate and understand what it means to their day-to-day activities and their day-to-day lives, whether it's their exposure to air pollution, and the health effects of that, or whether it's their role in generating air pollution and what they can do differently, going back to public transport—active travel, sorry—and behaviour change.

So, it might be that guidance can pick it up, but I'd have to go back and read the Bill again to think specifically about how it might be reworded. 

10:20

Sorry. I was going to say that you have to remember that engagement is very resource intensive, and if you're going to put a legislative duty in place, then you have to make sure that it's a duty that can be achieved. So, that's the difficulty with trying to do this through law. 

A lot of our children are already quite well informed, because I've seen in some of the schools in Cardiff Central, which is obviously a local air quality disaster zone, that they have these monitors that you can see, and they're quite easy to interpret. But children aren't listened to; the parents who are taking them to school in a car when they could be walking are just not listening, and neither are the local authorities, in the sense they're not taking action. So, what would be the impact, for example—you know you have these smiley faces or angry faces when people are going more than the designated speed—if we had an air quality indicator as well in areas of congestion? Would that—? What's the evidence around the speed monitors in terms of changing people's behaviour, and would the air quality ones, with red flashing lights, have an impact, or does it disappear after a bit?

So, on the question on the speed monitors, they do have an impact. There was actually a project I was involved in a few years ago, a European project that we ran here in Cardiff called 'WeCount', where we had citizens counting traffic as it went past their neighbourhood. And there was a case study where one citizen was literally sending his traffic data to his local Minister on a daily basis, and they eventually introduced one of those speed cameras. And you can see it in the data—compliance shifted massively, by about 40 per cent. So, it does have an effect, but speed is not the same as air quality. Air quality is a lot more complex. Nitrogen dioxide might be really high today, PM might be really low—do you make that a sad face or a happy face? Vice versa—sad face, happy face; you get that variability throughout the day. You have this mix of pollutants going on, so, it's not as easy as that.

And, again, it's where you set the thresholds for angry face, happy face, if you like. If you set it down at the World Health Organization, it will be permanently angry, whereas if you set it at the air quality objectives, you might see it being a lot happier more times of the year. So, I don't think those sorts of interventions can have a really meaningful effect. The ones that have a meaningful effect are when you engage with different people based on their understanding. So, the way I would engage with school kids would be very different from the way I would engage with young professionals, would be very different from the way I would engage with a retired couple, because their transport needs, their movement needs, their day-to-day behaviours and activities are all quite different. 

One of the best ways to engage with people on air quality is not to talk about air quality, it's to talk about how they move, it's to talk about cost, it's to talk about public health. And that's where it's about engaging with other departments, where you can then spread the resource, if you like, but engaging with Public Health Wales, and getting them on board, engaging with active travel networks, and getting them involved. Sometimes, the easiest way to bring about improvement and to bring about understanding is to not talk about it. 

The major problem is that people don't choose to live in these areas of high congestion; they're all people who have no choices—homeless accommodation—and the people doing the polluting don't live there themselves. 

Okay. I'm afraid that we are against time, so we really need to focus specifically on the Bill, but thank you for that, that's really useful.

Smoke control is another area that, obviously, is a subject in the Bill, and I was just wondering whether you think changes are needed to the current smoke control regime, beyond what the Bill proposes. Are you giving current proposals a happy face or a sad face? [Laughter.]

10:25

We move on, unfortunately. So, we've got four smoke control areas in Wales, if I remember correctly; most of them are in relatively big urban areas. The lessons we've learned from air quality management is that the problems aren't just in big urban areas, you're also going to find them in small towns and in other areas. So, if you're looking at smoke control areas, then you have to think wider than just our urban areas. I'd encourage it, I'd support it, I think it's needed. This, if you like, re-emergence of solid-fuel burning is a major concern and it's one that we have to try and tackle. My biggest question is: how is it going to be regulated, and who is going to regulate it? And I don't know the answer to that. I don't see that in the Bill.

Okay. Okay. I won't pursue that further because I know time is against us, and I know we need to get on to other areas, so, Joyce, maybe you'll take us on to one of those.

Moving on to another area—trunk road charging schemes. You suggest in your evidence that the introduction of trunk road charging schemes should be accompanied by—and I quote—substantive social equity issues. Do you want to expand?

So, we've got clean air zones that are—. Well, okay. We've got charging schemes that have been introduced around different parts of the country. They're not new. Low emission zones, clean air zones, these sorts of initiatives have been around for a long, long time. So, it's not a new intervention that we're putting in place. The issue we've got with this intervention is that, sometimes, it can leave people behind. So, what I mean by that is if we've got a charging scheme whereby if your vehicle meets a certain standard, you don't have to pay a charge. So, it's a clean vehicle. Well, I get paid pretty well as an academic, I can afford to adapt to that intervention. Now, if I'm a single parent, working two jobs and trying to nurse a 15-year-old diesel car on to its next national testing point, I can't adapt to that intervention. So, there are quite substantial social equity arguments that need to be considered around any of these charging schemes. And from an air quality point of view, the evidence seems to suggest that they do have a positive effect. From a social point of view, you have to think wider than that, and that's what I meant by that point.

Idling is one of the most irritating activities, because it seems completely unnecessary to me. But are the powers in this Bill strong enough to actually stop people doing it?

I'm afraid I didn't provide evidence on trunk road schemes, so I'll pass it on.

It's a bit like a smoke control area. Yes, it's annoying, yes, it needs to be dealt with. There was a point in there about vulnerable areas, so it focused on schools, hospitals, and care homes. That makes sense because we know the young and the elderly are more vulnerable when it comes to air pollution. You might argue that we're all vulnerable when it comes to air pollution. So, focusing on those areas makes sense. It's like the smoke control area—I'd come back to: who's going to regulate it? How is it going to be enforced? I absolutely support the need for it, I'm just not seeing, again, who's going to implement it.

Well, we'd have local authorities, obviously, because they're the obvious—

Which comes back to resources.

But it's all interlinked. It's not an intervention that stands in isolation. You go back to—I'll use that phrase—promoting awareness and education campaigns, you go back to more investment in active travel and public transport. It's not just one intervention; if you can try and address them all as a collective, then you can start to see the incremental benefits across everything.

Okay? Yes. So, the other section of the Bill is around soundscapes. Now, I'm not sure whether you have any views on provisions relating to that particular aspect of the Bill.

I'm not an expert in noise at all. What I will say is that, any time you're looking at an action plan or an intervention, from an air quality perspective, it's important to also look at it from the perspective of other environmental impacts, whether they be noise, climate—whatever they might be. So, the idea of having both subject areas integrated into the same Bill and working together seems like it makes sense to me, and hopefully will ensure that you get co-benefits across both of them and you avoid trade-offs.

10:30

And that brings us back very much to where we started about the scope of the Bill and whether there are other elements that could be included. There we are. Do Members have any further questions? Yes, Huw.

Yes, just to return for a moment to the social equity arguments around trunk-road charging, ultra-low-emission vehicles et cetera, and they are getting to be quite commonplace now, but you can deal—. I just want to put to you, because it's worth consideration within this Bill, if you're going to consider introducing those charges in order to deal with the issues of improving air quality within a particular area or environment, then it isn't all to do with things that are out of our control, like scrappage schemes for old diesels that could help those who have more financial challenges to switch. It's surely got to be more to do with giving good alternatives, including issues of public transport, fast bus lanes, and not necessarily trains, by the way, but, yes, investment in trains and new stations like the east of Newport, but it's actually to do with dedicated road space for not having people driving in single passenger vehicles. So, is that what you get in that, or is it other things as well? So, that charge needs to be allocated to delivering those social equity advantages to make sure that everybody can get into the city.

Absolutely. I totally agree with that point—you cannot have the stick without the carrot. So, if you're going to introduce something like a charging scheme, then there needs to be viable, affordable, reliable, accessible alternatives, whether that's public transport or active travel, so that people have choice, which brings us back to the point that it's all connected. It's not just about one intervention or one approach; it's about a multitude of different steps to try and bring about change.

So, do you think that is adequately addressed in the primary legislation in front of us, or should that be addressed subsequently in other work streams the Government is taking through, and that we need to get—if it's not on the face of the Bill—Ministers' assurances on record that any introduction of schemes should be accompanied by the wider comprehensive measures to deliver social equity when doing this? And, by the way, that's not social equity within the area to which the charges apply, but the wider social equity areas across the region as people commute in and travel in for school, hospital, business, work, or whatever.

I would say that, remember we do have the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 as well, which is intended to ensure that that kind of decision making takes all of those issues into account. Because what you've got to remember is that, sometimes, even when you have those alternatives, you might still be at a disadvantage if you are in the situation that you just described because, perhaps, you can't get the bus because you can't drop your children off to go to work and then—. We all know that a lot of parents who drive their children to school do so because they then have to immediately go off to get to work and the only way they can get to work is by car. So, then, that effect would still happen, wouldn't it? And you would still have the people in that situation who were then disproportionately affected by that charge. So, it's a very difficult thing to put onto the face of the legislation, I would say, and that was the purpose of the well-being of future generations Act.

But one of the things we could do, Chair, because the section within the Bill that deals with this is very much the technical, legalistic part of empowering the introduction of such schemes—it doesn't describe what the purpose or the principles behind them might be, and that might be—. Well, let me put it to you: do you think that that is an area that we should try and seek further clarity on, as this Bill goes through, as to what the purpose of these schemes would be and how the social equity issues would be addressed? Because we've got such good learning experience from other areas now—not just within the UK, but internationally—it seems there's an opportunity to put some guiding principles in place here. So, it's not just Cardiff doing it on its own, or Swansea or Newport; there are some bigger, overarching societal principles that underpin the introduction of these schemes.

The short answer to that is, 'Yes, I think you can'. There are a lot of lessons you can learn. You don't have to go that far to learn them: Bristol, Bath, Birmingham. There's an awful lot that you can learn from there. They've all been assessed not only in terms of the air quality impact, but the economic impact, the societal impact. I think you can learn a lot from those sorts of schemes. One of the issues that we’ve seen is that lack of a national framework, in that Bath is doing their thing, Bristol’s doing their thing, Birmingham’s doing something else. So, if you’re going down that route in Wales, then it needs to be something, in my mind, that is managed at a national level to support local authorities so that you get that integrated approach, or common approach, if you like, across the country. Because it’s coming; it will have to be looked at and dealt with.

10:35

Excellent. Okay. Well, can I thank you both very much for your evidence this morning? We greatly appreciate your participation in our deliberations around the Bill. You will be sent a draft transcript to check for accuracy, and there may be one or two bits and bobs that we write to you on, asking for further information where that’s come up in our sessions. So, with that, diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you very much for being with us.

The committee will now break for 10 minutes. We’ll reconvene for 10:45, because it may be that we can start our next session slightly earlier. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:36 a 10:54.

The meeting adjourned between 10:36 and 10:54.

10:50
3. Bil yr Amgylchedd (Ansawdd Aer a Seinweddau) (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
3. The Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill - evidence session 2

Croeso nôl i'r Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Seilwaith. Rŷn ni'n parhau â'n gwaith o graffu Cyfnod 1 y Bil—'y Bil aer glân' rŷn ni wedi ei adnabod e fel llaw fer, ond Bil yr Amgylchedd (Ansawdd Aer a Seinweddau) (Cymru) yw'r teitl swyddogol—ac rŷn ni'n symud at ein hail banel ni heddiw, ac rwy'n croesawu Joseph Carter, sydd yn bennaeth y gwledydd datganoledig gyda Asthma and Lung UK Cymru; yr Athro Gwyn Davies, sy'n athro meddygaeth anadlol a meddyg anadlol, Coleg Brenhinol y Meddygon; a Dr Sarah Jones, ymgynghorydd mewn iechyd amgylcheddol y cyhoedd, Iechyd Cyhoeddus Cymru. Croeso mawr i'r tri ohonoch chi atom ni y bore yma. Mi awn ni'n syth i gwestiynau, ac fe wnaf i wahodd Janet Finch-Saunders i ofyn y cwestiwn cyntaf.

Welcome back to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee. We continue with our work of Stage 1 scrutiny of the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill, but we refer to it as 'the clean air Bill' as shorthand. We will now move to our second panel for this morning, and I welcome Joseph Carter, head of devolved nations with Asthma and Lung UK Cymru; Professor Gwyn Davies, professor of respiratory medicine and respiratory physician, Royal College of Physicians; and Dr Sarah Jones, consultant in environmental public health with Public Health Wales. A very warm welcome to all three of you. We will move immediately to questions, and I'll invite Janet Finch-Saunders to ask the first question.

10:55

Thank you, Chair, and can I just put on record my thanks to Joe and anybody who works within this? I've not been able to attend a couple of sessions recently for the very reason that I've got some respiratory issues going on at the moment, and I know when I'm in an area, if you like, how it can make you quite unwell. So, we've got to make sure, for everybody's sake, that we get this sorted. So, do you believe that the Bill, as currently drafted, is sufficiently ambitious to lead to significant improvements in Wales's air quality and soundscapes? If not, why not?

I can, Chair. Thank you very much, and thank you for that question, Janet. It's greatly appreciated. And can I put on record my 'thank you' to all members of not just this committee, but across the Senedd, for their support on the very long journey we've been on to try to get to this Bill being where it is now? We certainly couldn't do it without all of the support, and it was incredible, in the case of that support, to have all four parties pledge in your manifestos in the last Senedd election to be calling for a clean air Bill of some description, and it's great to have to it here. In answer to your question, the Bill could be more ambitious, but it's a very good start, and I hope, during this process, during the detailed scrutiny through your committee, through the Senedd floor as well, we can make it even better.

If this Bill was passed as it is, it would make a major change to our public health and our environment, and we're very grateful for that. We've worked very closely with civil servants to get to where we are now. There's a lot of ambition and desire from Welsh Government. We truly believe they want to do the right thing, and we're supportive of that, but we think the Bill could be better. We think it could be stronger, we think it could be more detailed, we think there are things in here that are rather neutral and, if a Minister came into position who was not as keen on this agenda, in theory not much would actually change. So, at the moment we have a Minister and a Bill that are on the same page, as it were, and a committee that's very supportive, but, if those circumstances changed, it might be derailed. So, we would like to see more detail. We'd like to see some of that ambition that we know exists within Welsh Government appear on the face of the Bill as well. Thank you.

Diolch yn fawr. Anyone wish to add anything in particular about an overview? Yes, Dr Jones.

Yes, I think Joseph has summed it up perfectly there. I think, as we are all aware, the reality is that there is no safe level of air pollution, and Public Health Wales is keen to see that air quality is improved in Wales in a way that benefits everybody's health. We recognise that this is part of a wider package of activities that is being brought forward, around active travel and so on, the 20 mph Bill, but, as with Joseph, it would be nice to see some more tangible items as we move forward.

Diolch. Yes, I welcome the Bill. It's definitely a step in the right direction, but I do feel it should be more ambitious. If I may go into a little bit of detail in how I feel it should be more ambitious, I think the main thing is that the WHO, the new guidelines, do include other pollutants, and particularly nitrogen dioxide and ozone, and I think it's a missed opportunity to use these new guidelines on targets also. I think there is a good, sound body of evidence that these are harmful and that they should be included in the Bill. For example, the World Health Organization looked at over 500 papers, did several systematic reviews looking at all this evidence, so we know, for example, that nitrogen dioxide and ozone are associated with all-cause mortality, we know that specifically nitrogen dioxide is associated with COPD mortalities—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. So, I think we've got a sound body of evidence there, so I don't think we can say we need years and years' more data. I think we've got the data, so I think it's a missed opportunity just to focus on PM2.5.

The other thing I'd say is that we must make sure that the targets are consistent with up-to-date WHO guidelines. That needs to be futureproofed into the Bill, so we need, obviously, to update it as further evidence emerges over the years. Otherwise, I think it should be a bit tighter on the reporting. There needs to be—. It's an urgent matter, so there needs to be fairly rapid reporting if targets aren't being met.

11:00

Diolch yn fawr. Okay. We'll be picking up on some of those specifics as we go along, but I'll bring Huw in now.

Thank you, Chair. Can I ask you to what extent you believe the proposals in the Bill take account of existing health inequalities, and also prevent further inequalities occurring? I don't know who would like to begin on this. Dr Jones.

I think we all recognise from a public health perspective that inequalities play a massive part in the health experience of all of us. Those who live in the most deprived areas are more likely to suffer poorer health, and, when it comes to air pollution, they are also more likely to experience greater exposure to higher levels of air pollution in what's sometimes known as a triple jeopardy. So, it is really, really important to be able to understand and address how these inequalities occur and ensure that the actions that we then take don't widen the inequalities. I think what's really important in this Bill in particular is how we look at the actions that are proposed and how we ensure that they don't offer any potential widening of the inequalities or any perverse incentives that could actually further harm the health of those who are already in the poorest health.

And are there things in your mind already that you've seen within the Bill that would cause that concern?

So, we—. One of the questions that have been raised with us is around the question of clean air zones and the possible use of charging on the A470 and the M4. My question is—or one of my queries there is—how we do that in a way that doesn't disadvantage. We know, post COVID, that, of those people who earn less than £30,000 a year—the Office for National Statistics have shown some data—those people who earn less than £30,000 a year, half of those people have to travel every day for work, compared with only 10 per cent of those who earn more than £50,000 a year. I think part of the problem that we've got right now with putting in place models that start to try to predict what's going to happen, who's going to pay charges—actually, those models are all a bit all over the shop, because we're not through COVID enough to really have a clear idea of who's moving where and who's doing what.

But we've got to recognise as well that clean air zones are a part of a package of incentives, so it's making sure that the public transport and the active travel come first so that everybody has got potential to benefit from having the choice to travel actively or to travel on public transport.

That's a good example, and we might return to that later, I think, Chair, as well. You don't all have to answer this, but are there any other thoughts? Otherwise, I'll move on. Joseph.

Thank you very much. Two other thoughts, if I may, Chair, one linked to that point about the charging of vehicles on trunk roads, which may have come up later: there's a worry there about, if people do divert around these trunk roads, actually, where are they going to go? The risk is of them going, particularly, into the smaller Valley towns, trying to get around the A470, with higher levels of deprivation, higher levels of asthma and COPD. Certainly, transferring vast amounts of vehicle traffic into those roads is a health inequalities concern.

We're also concerned about the health inequalities element, potentially, of domestic burning. We do recognise—. The evidence does back up the fact that, actually, a lot of the expansion of domestic burning we're seeing is cosmetic, it's secondary heat sources. But we do recognise there are people out there who are using it as a primary heating source, albeit a minority of people, and it's how we avoid penalising them, how we support them. So much of this has to come down to carrots as well as sticks, and you can't necessarily legislate for that. That has to be a policy decision for Welsh Government, but it is a concern for people and I think it's part of that message of how we sell this package of reforms to the public that Welsh Government will be there to support them through it, rather than simply provide the stick.

Thank you. Professor Davies, you had your hand up, but then it went down. Are you okay on this?

Yes, I just wanted to make the point that, obviously, inequalities are hugely relevant here, but the other two speakers have made the points I was going to make. Thank you.

11:05

That's brilliant. Could I then, before I pass on to others, just ask something to take your view on? The Bill—. One of the things we look at on the committee is the legalese of the Bill, if you like—the words within it and so on. Now, it's title, the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill, its purposes, two purposes, improving air quality and assessing and managing noise—. So, any suggestions of this committee would need to fall within the scope of that, as judged appropriate by the Llywydd. Now, most of us on this committee are members of the cross-party air quality group. I'm also chairing the cross-party active travel group, and they've submitted evidence, and their evidence is that there's unfinished business related to active travel that could materially assist both in noise reduction and the management of noise, but also in terms of air quality. They state within their evidence, which you may not have had time to have looked at, because it has come in the last few days, that the clean air plan from Welsh Government states:  

'Transport is now the largest source of NOx in Wales, predominantly due to emissions from road transport, accounting for approximately one third of emissions.'

And they refer to the explanatory memorandum, to the WHO's 2009 night noise guidelines, where it says:

'Our 2017 noise maps suggested the homes of more than 200,000 people across Wales are exposed to road traffic noise levels exceeding'

those guidelines. So, on that basis, have you got a view as to whether some proposals around duties, extending the duties that are unfinished business in the original Act—the duty to promote active travel, and some other ones—do you have a view as to whether those should feature within this Bill, or, alternatively, legally whether they would fall in scope? The second one is probably unfair. So, would you like to see those if they help to alleviate some of these issues?

I think promotion of active travel has many, many benefits. If we look at encouraging—. If we could just encourage more people to travel actively on one day a week then we straight away have benefit for air quality, we have benefit for health, we have benefit for noise. Trying to disentangle all of those is nigh-on impossible, but the more we encourage people out of cars, the more we see exponential gains in air quality, in physical activity levels, in reduction in obesity, in improving overall health, reduction in noise as well—there's evidence to suggest that the health harms associated with noise are equivalent to those associated with air pollution as well. So, actually, I think promotion of active travel and public transport is actually where we can make big wins right now. When we look at the harms that have come around since—. It's around 100 years that car travel started to become endemic, and it is now, and I think it's interesting to note that cars aren't mentioned much in the Bill, yet, as you've just made the point, they are producing a massive amount of our pollution. So, actually, any incentives that we can offer to encourage people that active travel is feasible, is safe—especially for women—is reliable, is cheap, takes them to the places they need to go when they need to go there—. Coming off a shift in a hospital and then having two hours before you get home because you've got to wait for a bus that takes you into the centre of a town, and you've then got to wait for another one to get back out again—. It's not well designed, public transport, and active travel and public transport go hand in hand. Anyone who travels on public transport is travelling actively as well. And as soon as you start to bring those things into play then air quality will start to improve as well. 

Joseph wants to come in on this as well, and I know Jenny wants to raise a point as well. So, we'll come to Joseph first. 

Thank you, Chair. Yes, it's just to say thank you for that point, Huw—I think it's very well made. From Healthy Air Cymru we would support that way of thinking. If we're looking very closely at the Bill—and I'm not a lawyer, obviously; you'll need to take legal advice, clearly—the instruction in the Bill very clearly refers to 'and for connected purposes', and I think it's in those 'connected purposes' that we would active travel playing a key role. We're seeing road use being picked up here in the form of, obviously, the trunk road section. It would seem logical to us that active travel would equally have a part to play in that. Seeing the evidence obviously put forward by yourself and your group on this, I think that these things sit very well in this agenda and would make very useful amendments to this Bill—would not dilute it, would strengthen it. Certainly, as Healthy Air Cymru, we have Sustrans and Cycling UK Cymru and, indeed, Living Streets as our members; we would support this and think that it would only strengthen the Bill. Thank you.

11:10

I just wanted to come back to the social equity issues, because it isn't just—. The people who live in these areas of very high vehicle congestion don't choose to live there. They're all people who've been allocated spaces there, or they can't afford to live anywhere else. So, I think that it isn't just about—. It seems to me that there's a public health emergency around that, because they can't move, and a lot of GP practices—including the Cardiff Royal Infirmary, which is right there, along with various schools and care homes—are sitting in this space. Now, local authorities have done some work on cleaning up the buses that serve these areas, but is there not a lot more that this Bill should be doing to change the situation for these people who don't choose to live there?

I think this is the challenge. I think, obviously, we're in a time, post COVID, where public funding is limited as well, but we can't just say to people, 'You've got to start walking and cycling.' We've got to give them spaces to do that in which they feel safe and able to do that. Similarly, they've got to feel safe and able to be on public transport. But in terms of, if you like, speeding up the recovery of Wales and the Welsh population from COVID, then, yes, encouraging more walking and cycling is very much a way to do it. 

We know that the NHS is struggling, and that's just because—. As a member of NHS staff, I've seen my colleagues go through a phenomenal amount in the past couple of years, and, actually, we want to help them and everyone else, so that people who really need treatment can get it when they need it. Actually, one of the ways to do that is to have fewer people going through the doors with preventable conditions.

Physical activity helps us reduce all sorts of things. It helps, as well as obesity and all of the health harms that go with that—. So, anything that we can do to encourage people to be more active, encourage them to be healthier, is actually going to help the NHS to recover from everything that's gone on over the past couple of years as well. So, it's almost a win-win to encourage more active travel and more public transport use.

Then, there are other things, like we know that physical activity has got massive mental health benefits. We know that a lot of people suffered loneliness, isolation and anxiety during COVID. And we know that not just the process of being active, but actually the places that that takes you, can help deal with those mental health challenges that people are suffering as well. So, it's another way in which all of our health can gain.  

Okay. Thank you for that. Joseph wants to come in on this, and then we'll have to move on then to Janet. Joseph.

Thank you. I just wanted to thank Jenny for asking that question, particularly in terms of the public health emergency issue here. This is an incredible public health emergency. We are looking at almost 2,000 people dying every year because of air pollution related diseases. And it's not the—. We all think of this in terms of respiratory conditions—asthma, asthma in children, COPD in adults. But, actually, we're also looking at the cardiac conditions, the heart conditions—where a lot of the deaths are, in all fairness—strokes. The more that we learn, the more we understand the more dangerous and horrendous the consequences of air pollution around us are, and actually the more complicated and costly. Now we're looking at things like mental health, dementia et cetera. So, this is having a real impact on human life right now, and it is estimated to cost about £1 billion a year to Wales, according to Public Health Wales estimates. So, this is a big public health crisis.

I think, in answer to Jenny's question, some of this stuff is around Government priorities and local authority priorities and policies. Will the Bill help with that? Well, if the Bill succeeds in actually legislating for much, much lower levels of air pollution, which is clearly the desire of the opening sections, then it will do that. I think, if we achieve the lower targets on a whole range of pollutants, particularly around particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, local authorities will have to do more, and they will have to do the things that Jenny is talking about. Otherwise, the Welsh Government could find itself in the courts. So, I think if we follow through the ambition of the Bill and the regulations that would follow, these things could be achieved, but detail is important. 

11:15

Thank you. What are your views on the Welsh Government's decision to set air quality targets in regs rather than on the face of the Bill?

Who wants to pick up on this one? Air quality targets in regulations as opposed to on the face of the Bill. Joseph.

We've gone on a bit of a journey on this ourselves. The original position of Healthy Air Cymru and our member organisations, including my own, was that we wanted a Bill that set these things out in law. I think we do recognise now the practical issues of doing that, of containing a massive list of targets with dates on right now, and it potentially making quite a long Bill and a detailed one, and also the challenges, as all of you know, about amending that legislation, if time goes on. I think we've recognised now that to have that full list would be quite impractical. However, what we need is a middle way, and our position on this is that we would like the Bill to give more of a steer on this. We would like World Health Organization targets to be recognised in that form, on the face of the Bill. We can see a few areas—section 3, 4 and 5—where there could easily be an amendment to recognise World Health Organization limits or international best practice, but something that puts some sort of context on the face of the Bill. We worry that, without any mention of it on the face of the Bill, and solely referencing it briefly in the explanatory memorandum, which is not a legal document, it's a bit too sterile and neutral and, actually, if a Minister came along and decided not to pursue ambitious targets, there'd be nothing in here to hold him or her to account.

I'd agree. I would say there should be something on the face of the Bill that simply says that the targets should meet the up-to-date WHO guidance. I don't see why there would be particularly any sort of complex legal problems with that. But the important thing is, obviously, that what's enshrined and captured in the Bill are these up-to-date WHO targets, so that we're very consistent with the World Health Organization guidelines.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Bore da i chi i gyd. We had quite a developed conversation with the last panel about the niceties of getting the right balance, as you were talking about, Joseph, with having targets that allow flexibility but, at the same time, where they need to be more—. Well, 'stringent' is the wrong word, but where they need to be more exacting, that that balance should be right. Other than PM2.5, the power for Ministers to set targets is discretionary. Could you talk us through a little bit more, please, about what your views are on this and whether, with PM2.5, the three-year target is reasonable and appropriate in terms of that timescale?

This is an area where we are concerned about the Bill. We do recognise that the Welsh Government has been talking up about the concerns about PM2.5; it has been a priority for them. But we are concerned about the difference, the higher threshold that particulate matter 2.5 is given here versus others. We don't think it's appropriate; we think that, actually, the wording around the requirements of the targets should be extended to all—the nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide, et cetera, should all have that. Because even if, actually, the updated targets in regulations are following WHO guidelines and other international best practice, because some of these pollutants are not covered by WHO—. Even if we are only improving them slightly, because the evidence hasn't moved dramatically, as opposed to particulate matter, they still need to move in a positive direction to make them more ambitious. So, we think this is an area where the Bill could and should be improved. We think that all of these things should be on a level playing field.

Three years is on the longer side, particularly knowing how long the Welsh Government has been working on this. We would be more comfortable if it were 12 months rather than three years. And three years in Welsh Government civil-service world is not that long in terms of the work they are working on. But we need action on this. And we’re open to the fact and honest about the fact that we’re not expecting regulations to come along and say, ‘By 2025 you must hit these targets’. To try to hit the WHO guidelines on particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide targets by 2025 or 2030 would not be possible, and we have not been calling for that. We would rather have an honest conversation about, actually, what does the evidence suggest, when could this be hit. Is it 2035, is it 2040? Whatever the evidence suggests, but setting those targets in law within the next 12 months to three years. Going further than three years is far too far; going less would be better.

11:20

We've got Gwyn wanting to come in, and then I'll bring Sarah in as well. Gwyn first. 

I agree with those points. I’d say it should be a 12 month to two-year time frame, realistically. We need to be challenging here. And I’ve already made the points about including ozone and nitrogen dioxide and being consistent with WHO guidance. 

I don't disagree with the previous speakers. I think the challenge with the targets as they stand is that they risk delaying action, and given that our start point is that there is no safe level of pollution, actually what's critical here is action to reduce pollution levels. I think there's a danger that a prolonged discussion about what the targets should be actually misses the point of improving air quality, which is what of course is critical for health here in Wales. 

Thank you all for that. The Government has said that one of the reasons why they're not introducing targets for pollutants other than PM2.5 is because of problems with data availability. Do you recognise that as being an issue, or do you think that there are ways in which that could be overcome, please?

Sorry, it was an old hand, but I can respond. 

I'd have thought that those obstacles could be overcome in terms of measuring ozone, but I think Dr Jones will probably know more on the detail of the technologies available. Obviously, when we’re talking about measures to reduce PM2.5, which we’re understandably focused on as a very important pollutant, then those measures are likely, obviously, to reduce other pollutants as well.

I think there is a danger on focusing on a single pollutant. We find ourselves in this position, talking about PM2.5, possibly because 10 to 15 years ago there was a lot of conversation about carbon dioxide, and that caused a big shift towards the use of diesel cars, which has created a nitrogen dioxide problem. I think there is always a risk in focusing on a single pollutant because you risk taking your eye off what’s going on somewhere else, and the reality is there is no safe level of pollution. When it comes to determining the health effects, yes, we know that PM2.5 is particularly nasty because it can cross into the bloodstream, but actually to disentangle the effects and come out with numbers that say, ‘PM2.5 causes this much ill health versus PM10 causing this much ill health versus nitrogen dioxide causing this much ill health’ is actually almost impossible to do, because they all interact, and then they all interact with everything else that’s around us as well.

I think there is a concern if you just get bogged down in a single pollutant, but the point about monitoring, what we should be monitoring for, comes back to my previous point—how much data is enough data? When have you got enough data to be able to set a target and act? Do we actually need data? For example, concerns are often expressed about air quality around schools, and then there’s often a conversation about needing to monitor to find out how the bad the air quality is. Do we need to monitor? Actually, we know what the intervention is. The intervention is reducing the number of cars that are around schools. Will monitoring change that intervention? No, it won’t. So, actually, is the monitoring just getting in the way of us doing the thing we need to do around looking for ways of reducing the number of cars around schools?

I'd agree with all of that. I think we can be focused a bit too much on the local evidence base and the local monitoring on this. The reality is that the monitoring system that we have across pollutants is flawed, in many cases. We are reliant on a lot of modelled data, and we'll possibly come back to this later on with some of the other questions. But we have a system that works to an extent. It can always be better, we can always have more monitoring, we can always have real-time modelling. But even if we just use the modelled data we have, it gives us a snapshot.

We can talk about the so-called local evidence base here, but the reality is we're not just picking numbers out of the air. The reason we talk about the World Health Organization limits is that international experts put this together. They've decided what are safeish levels for some of this stuff, even though you could argue with particulate matter no level is safe. But this is international best-practice guidance. So, we know what we need to be aiming for, and there might be flaws in how we measure it, but anything we can do to try to reduce any of these pollutants is a positive step in the right direction. All the measures that we've talked about will have a positive impact.

We are, thankfully, a long way away from the time where it would be actively encouraged to be building bypasses in order to reduce air pollution. We know now that, actually, in the short term that may be true, but, in the long term, it all gets worse. So, the policy direction of this Government and of other governments across Europe, at least, is going in the right direction. Whether we have enough data or not, it all helps, and we are all following best practice.

11:25

Thank you all for that. Finally from me, if I could ask you to respond to another point that the Welsh Government has made. You've all been referring to the importance of some ways in which we can measure ourselves in terms of progress, particularly WHO guidelines. The Government has said that it doesn't know whether it will be possible to do that across Wales and by what point that will be possible, if it can be achieved. What would your response be to that, if there's a message that you could convey to the Government in response to their doubt about that, please?

I think it comes back to my previous point around how much data is enough data, and, again, a previous point, which is that we're still relatively close to all of the changes that have happened over COVID. We've talked already about different actions that could actually take us here. It's very difficult, as we all know, to predict the future. With a great deal of support for active travel and public transport, we could get there a lot faster, which is almost what we're trying to talk about not doing here, in one sense, because we don't want vehicles going faster. But, actually, there are lot of actions that, if they were implemented, could get us there a lot faster without necessarily getting bogged down hugely.

I don't disagree that we need to be thinking about when we want to be places so that we can mark and we can see if we need to do more, but it can also delay action. For me, the thing that I want to see more than anything is the action to improve air quality by reducing car travel, by increasing active travel, by increasing public transport use, and I think that's been lost a little here.

I would say that just because it's hard doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing it. We have to do it, it's a public health emergency. Overall, obviously, it's a climate emergency. I don't think we can accept harmful levels just because we say it's going to be hard to reduce them; we need to try our best. We need to strive. It's going to take time, of course, but we are going to slowly make things better. I would also say that, I think, with the pandemic, perhaps people are more likely to accept change and accept the reasons behind change.

Thank you, Chair. As I'm listening to this, I'm reading with interest through the first draft of the legislation that we have in front of us, before amendments, which turns to the target setting and the fact that Ministers must be satisfied that the target or the amended target can be met. It talks about revocation, potentially, or lowering of targets to meet some of the flexibility that Dr Jones was talking about. So, can I ask all of you, are you broadly content that it's right to take within this Bill the ability to revoke, amend and even lower targets—and the subsequent sub-clauses 3 and 4 explain why the Minister feels that that is necessary? And do you have any concerns that a Minister could interpret that, especially when you have something as subsection 3, paragraph (b), because of changes in circumstances since the existing target was set or last amended, because the environmental, social, economic, or other costs of meeting it would be disproportionate to the benefits? Now a well-meaning Minister could well say, 'Well, I’ve looked at all of that, but we’re still going to proceed' Or, 'I've looked at all that; we're going to adjust it'. Or, a less well-intended Minister could say, 'Yes, well, I've looked at the advice, and I just don’t think these things can proceed, because the impacts on Joe up the road are too much'. Are these powers right, or do we need some strengthening in here? Dr Jones.

11:30

I think—and you’ll have to forgive me; the exact wording is outside of my knowledge—we need to make sure that the targets aren’t adjusted to suit the pollution levels, so that they’re adjusted in the wrong direction. I think we would welcome the flexibility as long as it is recognising that we want to bring pollution down, because there is no safe level of air pollution, and I think fundamentally, for me, this is the critical point. There is no threshold at which the pollution is safe, so we need to constantly be progressing towards reducing pollution levels as low as is reasonably practical.

And I think that that has to be the underpinning message in any flexibility, because there is a health harm that goes with this. And as long as we allow pollution to remain higher than it needs to be, then we’ve got health harms going with it. And actually, we've also got the sources of those pollutants, which, in Wales, a lot of it comes from cars, and those cars are creating other harms other than just air pollution, as well.

And are you confident that that direction is set elsewhere in the Bill—I’m scanning through it rapidly—that we’re clear? Because Bills tend to be written in legalese, as opposed to ambition.

I think this is what needs to be stated very clearly—that that adjustment needs to benefit health, not to benefit the pollution levels, which I think is the danger you’re alluding to there.

Thank you, Huw, for asking that question. I think there’s a huge risk here, and I think this entire section 3(3) is a risky area. I do know, obviously, in 3(4), there is a requirement that a statement is given to the Senedd explaining the rationale for it, but if you’ve got a Government with a reasonable majority, or a coalition Government with a big majority, then would that be enough? Probably not. It is a fine balance. I mean, to an extent, if you were to put the amendments as we’ve outlined and put in World Health Organization limits, mentioning that in some way on the face of this Bill, that would offer some protection, but this is a really concerning area. And you've got to think about the message it sends. If you’ve got a population whose health is being impacted clearly by the fact that there are unsafe levels of air pollution outside that school or hospital, just that busy road, and they are looking at the law carefully, they’ve had legal advice, they’ve got some family lawyers helping them with this and they’ve got that protection in the backs in their minds that, come let’s say 2035, for example, actually, if the pollution level is not down by that point, they would have the right, the legal redress to go to the courts, as has happened with the breaches in European directives when Welsh Government was taken to court—. If there's suddenly the indication that you could get to a year away from that deadline being hit, and suddenly, Welsh Government comes back with a new regulation and just basically says, 'We’re going to push it back five years', or, 'We're going to just move the target a bit higher and say that, actually, we're not going to hit five now, we're going to hit eight after all, and look: we've passed', that’s a really dangerous area. And I know that it's a fine balance for your committee and others always as to what scope we give Ministers versus what powers the Senedd has, but to actually abdicate that solely to the whim of a Minister who might not even have to bring it back for affirmative resolution, that’s a very dangerous area, so we would have concerns about that.

I’d echo that. I can’t see where there’d be justification for making a target less ambitious. If the WHO came and said, 'We'll make our targets less ambitious', that's extremely unlikely to happen. And there needs to be that flexibility to make the targets more ambitious, and the crux will be: is it consistent with up-to-date WHO guidance?

11:35

Okay, well, that's an important point, but can I just bounce your comment there back to Dr Jones? You made the point quite reasonably that we've been down cul-de-sacs before with things like emissions from diesel cars. A Minister could well argue, 'Actually, we set that high level of ambition—it's actually taken us into dangerous areas that we didn't realise', so, there is an argument to revoke, and so on. Sorry, rather than put it back to you, can I put that back to you, sorry, Professor? There might well be a reason why a Minister comes back and says, 'That particular target is wrong, based on the latest evidence—we need to amend it or revoke it entirely'.

Well, I would say that, if we go with WHO guidance, then I think that is the safest thing that we can do. They look at a huge amount of evidence and they obviously have a very robust evaluation process. So, yes, I do think that the dangers, as Joseph's outlined, about making it less ambitious—we do need to focus on WHO-safe levels.

Okay, that's really helpful to understand that. Sorry, Joseph, you've put your hand up.

Just very quickly to support Professor Davies on this. I think to use the diesel scandal there is a very good example, as you've done so. The answer to that was not to look at the nitrogen dioxide targets and say they were wrong; the answer was to look at the policy decisions taken and it was the policy decisions that were wrong. The target was fine, but it was a false incentive that led to that one target going down and other targets going up. So, changing the target doesn't improve that; changing the policy and looking at the other pollutants and making sure that they're all on a level playing field is important.

Okay, okay, that's interesting. Can I just go on? You've already touched, to some extent, on concerns relating to the reporting of progress on targets—section 5 of the Bill—and whether there should be more frequent—. You've already touched on this, so, you don't need to go over the same ground again, but is there anything else you want to add on reporting, as relating to section 5 of the Bill? If not—. No. We will move on.

No. Okay, there we are, and we will indeed. So, I'll invite Janet, therefore, to come in.

Thank you. Two of my questions have actually already been addressed, so, we'll move on to Asthma UK and RCP—

Yes, I do, actually. We've talked quite a lot about what we know about—'we' the experts in the room as opposed to the general public—local air quality monitoring. The general public—. It's not the talking point at the bus stop or outside the school, and I wanted to ask you about the gaps in information, because Jo Carter, your evidence talks about things I didn't know, which is a study that shows that 38 per cent of particulate pollution in Leicester was caused by agricultural pollution. So, we talk a lot about vehicle emissions and that seems to be high on our list of concerns, but there are obviously things going on elsewhere that are not being talked about and not being addressed. So, what changes are needed to monitoring and reporting processes to support the ambition of the Bill and make sure that we get the policy objectives right? Do you want to start, Jo?

Thank you, Jenny. Thank you for that comment. You're absolutely right, and the reality is that it's not solely an urban issue, and as that study in Leicester showed, there is spillover into other areas. And that's why getting the monitoring right is so important and there's a limit to what we can do in legislation, and some of this is around policy. Actually, we can't necessarily legislate, or I don't believe we can legislate for x number of monitors at x number of locations, but we do need to have that ambition to have that monitoring across rural communities as well, to be looking at big agricultural players as well. Because, otherwise, we run the risk, as we've got now, that our limited number of monitors creates a modelled picture that makes our rural communities look absolutely fine, and there are villages and small communities that have very high levels of pollution because they're next to very big agricultural sites. And as you rightly say, that impacts on all of us as well. That's why pulling this all together is so important, and Welsh Government needs to develop that monitoring network, which is alluded to in the Bill and the explanatory memorandum but it's largely a policy decision.

11:40

But it's also about making the evidence that is out there more accessible to the general public, to engage them in the process of change. Simply reporting it and people like us all reading it isn't going to be sufficient to get the change. Sarah Jones, what are we going to do to make this an everyday talking point?

I think, fundamentally, one of our big problems with air pollution is that we don't walk out of this room and step into the outside environment and think, 'This air is extremely polluted'. We can't see it, and for many people, it's intangible. I know there's been mention of people with some respiratory diseases who do sense that, but for most of us on a daily basis, we can't see or detect the air pollution. So, for many, many people in the community, whether it's in rural Wales or in urban Wales, actually, the fact that that pollution exists is relatively unknown, and then, where it comes from is similarly unknown. I think this is what's critical here. The actions that are going to improve air quality in Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham are not necessarily the same actions that are going to improve air quality in Newtown or in Builth Wells. We need to be thinking about different actions in different places, we need to be looking at how we implement those, but generally, at how we improve public understanding of those sources and how we all individually contribute to those. That's a sizeable job, and doing it in an age of social media when misinformation and disinformation rules is a real challenge. It needs authoritative voices to actually be explaining to people, 'Actually, this is what's creating the air pollution and this is why we need to do something about it, because, as well, over here, it's harming health and it's putting pressure on the NHS'.

One of our previous witnesses talked about the need for a collaborative approach and that simply putting information out there isn't sufficient.

I think this is it. In one sense, as social media has erupted, there can be this perception, 'Oh, you post something on social media so that everybody knows about it', when, actually, in reality, we probably had a better chance of reaching everybody 30 years ago when there were half a dozen newspapers in Wales, and if the Western Mail carried a story, then it was probably going to reach a big chunk of the population. So, actually, now, reaching people is much, much harder than it's ever been, and we've all got to work much harder to get those messages to the people who really need them. If it's not done collaboratively, it's not going to happen.

Okay, very, very briefly, Gwyn, if you may, and then we need to make progress.

Yes, I think we need to increase awareness, especially in vulnerable groups like those with asthma and COPD. I've recently been doing training. We've got great Wales apps for these patient groups now, so, in the future, it will be possible to link with air quality data on these apps, so I think we need to think carefully about what the messaging is, so that, for example, people still exercise but they avoid areas of high pollution that would exacerbate their condition.

Okay, thank you. We're not halfway through our areas of questioning yet, and we've only got 30 minutes left, but I'll allow Joyce to come in briefly and then we'll move on.

I think that that last statement leads nicely to what I was going to ask anyway. When people do decide to take recreational activities, very often, they all end up in the same place at the same time in the same way. And you will have high levels of pollution as a consequence of people's activity because of that, where that pollution wouldn't normally have existed. Going for a walk and all parking in the same place is one example. But also, people deciding that they're going to do an activity on the waterway, with diesel propelled engines, will bring pollution to what would have previously been an unpolluted area. So, my question is obvious. Where should the monitoring be? What should it look like when we're thinking more widely, rather than just the narrow focus, which is a possibility in the highly populated urban areas? But when those people from those highly populated urban areas come to places like Pembrokeshire, where I live, they bring it with them.

11:45

I think that's an important challenge, and I think that's something critical for us all to understand. Pembrokeshire—I understand why everyone goes there; it's a gorgeous place to be, and I think there does need to be a recognition of the fact that how we travel there creates the impact. But I think the challenge then comes—. Do we need the monitoring to know that, ideally, we don't want everyone coming to Pembrokeshire by car? Ideally, we'd want a train service that makes it easier for people to get to and around Pembrokeshire without cars, which we probably don't need monitoring to tell us. So, it is finding a balance between the right amount of monitoring and the right amount of data, and the actions that we know that need to be taken to reduce. Even if we don't know what the level of pollution is, we know that if there are fewer cars going to Pembrokeshire, then the air quality will be improved. 

[Inaudible.]—RCP. Could you expand on the concerns outlined in your own written evidence about the drafting of provisions in relation to the national air quality strategy, and the unforeseen consequences of this approach? 

Thank you, Janet, for that question. This isn't potentially an area that's as exciting as the targets area, but I think it's a very important one all the same, and I think it goes to the heart, actually, of some of the legalistic challenges of this Bill. Like in many Bills that are coming through the Senedd, we would, I think, all aspire to have them as good-quality, stand-alone Welsh pieces of legislation that are starting to build a Welsh body of law. And we wanted that with this Bill as well. This would be the foundations of what air quality legislation should look like here in Wales, set by this Senedd, so that our lawyers could get behind. But what we actually have instead, in large parts of this Bill—and this is a good example of this—is this Bill simply seems to be amending existing pre-devolution legislation, so predominantly the Environment Act 1995 and the Clean Air Act 1992, and, to a lesser extent, the more recent UK Environment Act 2021, rather than doing things in Wales. So, this particular example is a fascinating one, because there were provisions in the 1995 legislation for a statutory strategy that would be a UK-wide strategy, and that hasn't been used, I believe, since 2006, but it was sat on that Bill. And, then, the 2021 UK or English Act amended that section to define in law that it was going to be about England. So, it actually cleared up the devolution or not issue, and made clear that that would be about England. But, yet, our Bill seeks to go back to that old Act, to that section that is now about England, and essentially bolt on a bit saying, 'Actually, we will have a Welsh strategy, and it will be set by the Senedd and it will be Welsh Government's', but bolting it onto that legislation. And we think that's quite a strange area, and it doesn't sit right with us for a whole range of different legal reasons. But we do worry that it potentially creates unforeseen consequences, that if the UK Parliament decides to amend that section with a focus on the strategy in England, it runs the risk that, actually, it might potentially undermine the bits for Wales just by consequence, with no malicious intent, just by unforeseen consequences. So, what we've argued, and would, is that the soundscape section later on in our Bill is the model we should have gone for—that we should have in this Bill a clear definition of what should be in our national air quality strategy, and that five-year review cycle. That should be set in this Bill independently from any Westminster pre-devolution piece of legislation. And that argument also goes for stuff around domestic burning, and trunk roads as well—that we'd rather have that set, and set in law solely here, rather than actually creating a messy plethora of making little changes to pre-devolution settlements. Thank you.

11:50

Yes, that's really interesting, actually. Thank you for that. Okay, just moving on slightly, then, do you believe it's necessary for Welsh Ministers to have the power to change the review period for the national air quality strategy by regulations? Any opinions, Joseph?

If I come back on that, yes, the whole idea of the review target was meant to be based around Senedd cycles. That's the idea of the five years. So, we do have some worries, if there were to be arbitrary changes to that review cycle, about what it would mean. I accept there must be some grounds for some flexibility there, not least the fact, if the Senedd was dissolved early, the five-year cycle would be out of alignment. So, possibly there are some grounds for it then, in the unlikely event of that happening. But the risk, I suppose, of an arbitrary change to that just because of, possibly, a change of Government policy or a change of evidence, then that would be a worry. Thank you.

Yes. Should the Bill include a requirement for the Welsh Ministers to report on progress towards delivery of the clean air plan strategy? If so, how often should progress be reported?

I think it should be reported every 12 months.

Okay, and there are nodding heads, yes. Okay, there we are. That's straightforward enough. Thank you. Okay, right. Jenny, I was going to bring you in anyway.

Another argument we heard from the professor from Swansea University was that one year won't necessarily give you a realistic picture—it might be a COVID year, or the timescale of actually getting this thing geared up, so that five years gives you a more accurate picture of the trends.

That's a reasonable point, but I think, if you've got that provision for a 12-monthly report, then it could be a brief report if it's, obviously, a pandemic year, but it just focuses minds, I think, about where we have got to and what action we need to take. So, I think 12 months is reasonable.

And there may be a difference between reporting on the strategy and recognising trends in terms of reduction in pollution or improvement in air quality, of course. Okay, thank you. We're coming to you next, Jenny.

Thank you very much. So, how effective is the current local air quality monitoring regime? Does it take account of the latest scientific research? And does it tell us accurately enough the things that should be top of our list for action?

Yes, local air quality management. Is it accurate and do we use it extensively enough?

I think there are a few things to think about with local air quality management. It's focused very much on compliance with a target. We've talked a lot about targets, and I'm going to say it again, but we know there's no safe level of pollution. So, it creates an artificial win, if you like. What we also know about air pollution, and there are those of us who are old enough to remember when restaurants had smoking and non-smoking areas, pollution doesn't behave nicely. If you sat in a non-smoking area of a restaurant, you knew you were in a restaurant in which there were smokers, and the same goes for thinking very much about small areas.

Something that we talk about in public health is the prevention paradox, and what we know from the prevention paradox is if you seek to make gains in a hotspot area, which in essence you do with LAQM, then the overall population gain is going to be smaller than actually if you make a smaller improvement in air quality for the whole population. So, actually, by focusing on a tiny area, the overall gain in health is going to be far, far less than if you focus on a much larger area. And I think all of these things together, if we look at the way that air quality management areas have been functioning, or probably not, really, the intention is a good one, but I think we've perhaps moved on from there now into a situation where they don't necessarily do what we hope for, which is bring about continuous improvement in air quality for a much wider benefit.

11:55

Thank you. I think it's a really good point—[Inaudible.]—about the smoke in restaurants there as well. I mean, there are areas, obviously, where it has worked, and that should be welcomed, but I think the recognition in this Bill is that the current framework does not work. What's been proposed here is better and, actually, the focus on annual reviews, the focus on actual action being required, is very much within the policy direction of Welsh Government. So, that, I think, is a positive thing. But I think we do have to recognise that, even within what's being proposed here, it is still unclear how holistic this monitoring picture is going to be. One of the challenges that we have at the moment—and I'm not convinced, legally, whether this solves the conundrum or not—is that we have two tiers of regulations here and monitoring. We have the national monitoring, the big-budget expensive monitors that were used for European directives—those are the monitors, the breaches, that have landed Welsh Government in court for action on the trunk roads in Cardiff and in Caerphilly as well. But, actually, we know there are lots of other breaches out there that would be detected by the local air quality management system that would not have that level of legal redress, and yet they are still breaches, and that is a very unusual situation. And we know Welsh Government's desire, from a policy point of view, is to bring that together and to tackle that. It's unclear, as a non-lawyer, whether this Bill would actually do that, whether these discrepancies would still exist. So, I think the jury is out as to whether, actually, this will go far enough to achieve what Welsh Government want to achieve, whether some of these false demarcations will still be there.

Okay. So, what are the changes you'd want to see that would give it more purpose in actually changing behaviour and changing policy?

Well, I think, ultimately the change we'd like to see is all this to be linked up in law, for there to be no discrepancy between national and local monitoring, for the monitoring that's being achieved from local authority X to Y—so, Cardiff, say, versus Wrexham, combined with Welsh Government's own monitors—all of this giving a fair picture of what air quality breaches are like. And if that shows—all that monitoring together, and a combination of modelled versus monitored data—there are breaches in a part of Cardiff Central, for example, or a part of Wrexham, those people living there would have legal redress and they would have the legal right to breathe clean air.

We'd also be very keen to make sure—. This discrepancy also merges—excuse me, Chair, for this—into the issue of smoke control zones, because, ultimately, pollution is pollution and, actually, we want to see a monitoring system and a legal redress that actually would give people the right for redress with all of these pollutants. Every thing that is breached on the targets set on the first few sections of this Bill should have that legal redress, whether it's being recorded locally or nationally. It should all be the legal picture, and we worry that, possibly, as worded at the moment, the Bill doesn't necessarily deliver on this ambition for Welsh Government and it might still lead to these gaps and different systems.

Okay. Thank you. You mentioned smoke control there. There have been a few references to it. We'll skip over it for a moment because I want to get to other parts of the Bill that I think deserve our scrutiny, and maybe we'll come back to smoke control at the end, if we have time. So, Joyce, you're going to take us on to trunk road charging schemes.

Yes. You have talked about trunk road charging—you did it, I think, in your opening, a few of you. Should the Bill set out any specific targets—I know what you're going to say, Sarah—and if they do have specific targets, what should the threshold and the criteria be?

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for the question, Joyce. I think this is a very interesting stick to bring to bear, and we know the benefits of local charging—we've seen it. London is the best example internationally of, actually, the effector of a chargeable zone and the impacts on air pollution this can bring, and they are vast, and we get considerable public health benefits from it. So, we also know, and you know as well, but members of the public might not know, that because of the legislative competence available to us, the Senedd hasn’t got the powers to actually legislate on clean air zones. Trunk roads are separated out as an area where there is ability for the Welsh Government to bring forward legislation, so that’s why it’s singled out.

But I think our concern is, whilst we would support chargeable zones, low-emission zones, clean air zones in cities, towns, in discrete areas like that where you have a population going into a place and you can use behavioural change techniques and other carrots to build active travel and public transport around that to get people into that place, be it Cardiff, Newport, even Pembroke, potentially, actually, if you’re looking at a trunk road going north to south, east to west, our worry is that that wouldn’t necessarily work, and instead people will just go around it. And that’s that point I made about health inequalities, the risk of—. I look at some of the smaller roads and villages—roads running parallel to the A470 are an example of this—and the last thing we want to see is people leaving the A470 and going closer to human habitation and bringing all those vehicles there. That would have really undesirable consequences.

So, we know why they’re doing it. We recognise the rationale for it. We do worry that, if used, it could have quite negative consequences. So, it would have to be used very, very carefully.

12:00

I think it should be there as an option if needed. I think you’d need to carefully select your trunk roads so that you were benefiting human health the most, as in, where the residential areas where people were living were close to trunk roads. And also, in terms of widening inequalities, I think if you were going to bring in charges then they’d have to be potentially reduced for low-income households, for example.

Just to echo the comments of the previous speakers, and my comments from earlier as well, we've got an issue with the current cost of living, we've got issues around massive changes in travel behaviour, which are affected by income—and when I say 'travel behaviour' I mean, for the most part, travel to work, which is hugely affected by income—and they haven't really settled down after COVID, and we're still understanding how those operate now. They will impact on the feasibility of any clean air zone charging system, and then also the revenue that they generate, and whether they actually have a value.

But the other thing to keep in mind as well is that a clean air zone can encourage a switch to a—in theory—cleaner vehicle, although even electric cars pollute. There’s much made of electric cars being emission free. No, they’re exhaust emission free, but they still produce a lot of particulate matter. But, actually, the production of a vehicle is estimated to create as many emissions as they then produce during their lifetime of use. All you do by buying a new vehicle is move where those emissions are experienced. Is moving those emissions outside of Wales the right thing to do? Actually, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 doesn’t really allow us to do that either.

So, I think there is evidence. As Joseph says, there is evidence that has demonstrated the effects of clean air zones. London is a difficult comparator to use because London is not like anywhere else, but there is evidence to show they can work. I think the challenge would be whether it could be made to work in a way that doesn’t increase inequalities, that doesn’t place harms—. And again, not just with air pollution, but with all of those vehicles on narrow valley streets that bring with them more noise, more isolation and loneliness for the people who live on those streets, because their community is being severed by the presence of those cars on the street. And I think it’s a really difficult balance to strike.

I think, moving on, at the moment, if you have a charging scheme, they can only be used for policies or proposals relating to transport, and yet you've demonstrated quite nicely that the impact is much wider than transport. So, assuming that they came in, would you agree that the current parameters for use are the right ones, or would you want to see those amended?

12:05

Yes. And I think this perhaps comes back to earlier points about the order in which things are done and then the value of sort of wider schemes as well. Investment in active travel and public transport is much needed if we are going to encourage people to travel actively, to travel by public transport, to feel safe, secure that the system is reliable. That needs investment in it. Where you get that from: logically, a charging zone would be an important source of that. It’s whether it can all be made to work in a way that doesn’t increase inequalities and that actually adds value to being able to put in place active travel and public transport, and come to it in the right order, so that the active travel and the public transport is there first, not waiting.

I think any revenue could be used to support a wide range of pro-environmental and health endeavours, so I think you could widen it, really, and that would make it a less bitter pill to swallow for people if they knew it was going to benefit their communities, potentially.

Thank you, Chair. No, I think that's—. I'd agree with other two speakers; I think it needs to be directed to the right place. We do worry about the risk of it potentially being siphoned off into other areas if that ring fencing is reduced. I mean, clearly, you would also need that investment to be in air quality monitoring as well as simply the transport initiative, but the primary focus should be public and active travel.

One thing I would say on this, though: if we’re looking at the explanatory memorandum and the financial impacts of this Bill, some of the numbers for this are quite—. I worry about how realistic they are, because it’s been costed up purely as if it will pay for itself, and to answer the point raised by you, Joyce, we recognise that it will require some investment. There's stuff that will need doing first. So, in the explanatory memorandum, there’s a one-off cost of £30,000, and then the rest is all self-financing. In reality, to make the changes necessary, to actually potentially invest in the capital infrastructure for active travel, revenue infrastructure to get the buses, you need to get that all there, paid for, at least a year in advance of the trunk road scheme starting, and it will pay back eventually, but it will not pay back straightaway, and we need to be realistic about that.

Okay. Thank you very much. Right, Huw, are you going to take us on to soundscapes?

Yes, indeed, into an area that this committee hasn’t looked at a lot before, so we’re going to rely on your expertise now on soundscapes. So, in written evidence, some of you have expressed concerns about the review process for the soundscapes strategy. So, can I ask how would the provisions be strengthened to address those concerns? Dr Jones.

I think it comes back to where you yourself started from, around that increasing the availability of active travel and public transport, because actually, a great deal of the sound and the noise pollution to which we are exposed comes from cars, and actually, it’s about recognising that—. I’m about to use the word ‘small’; I don’t mean 'small', but a change here, because of the range of ways in which vehicles affect our health, with more focus on active travel, noise pollution will be reduced as well. So, I think it’s about recognising the breadth of activities, the breadth of actions that can bring about the changes that we want to see, that will benefit everybody and benefit their health as well.

Thank you. If there are no other comments on that—. Oh, sorry; go on, Joseph.

Sorry, just very briefly. We do welcome this area. This is a very exciting addition to the Bill, an unexpected one in some ways, and it only really came out as a result of the White Paper. But it is intrinsically linked to air pollution, albeit in a way that not necessarily everyone would think of. I think our concern about the review period is because it’s such a new area for us, we do worry about what might be achieved in the first five years and how we actually don’t see those first five years wasted, and actually making sure that it’s aligned with those local noise maps as well, which are currently not linked to this. So, we're supportive of what they are trying to achieve, but I think we need to flesh out some more detail in terms of how this would work in practice, because it is so new.

12:10

Okay, that's a fair point, and you mentioned there the review timescales in relation to a national soundscape strategy of around about five years. If anybody has any comment on that, or on any other aspect, we'd welcome it as we're taking evidence today.

But could I ask in terms of—? This is an emerging field, it's quite exciting, but getting it right is going to be interesting and getting the right scientific advice in front of Ministers. The Minister has told us she's willing to consider the case for establishing an advisory panel on soundscapes, similar to the clean air advisory panel. So, do you think this is a good way forward? Would it address some of your concerns about how we get the right scientific advice in front of Ministers? Joseph.

Yes, yes, Chair, it would. Yes, it would. And I think this is very—. Sorry, I was promoting you there, Huw. Yes, it would make a difference. We found the expert panel on the air quality side to be very useful: its influence on the legislation; it's put a lot of work into the targets aspect, and it has brought people together who are not just Wales based, but some international experts as well. So, we do think this would be very, very useful, and I think this whole area is very exciting, but I think, if we look at some of the questions you've asked about air quality monitoring in particular, the issues around monitoring noise remain to be seen and we are—. When we think about monitoring noise, we tend to think about local authorities helping people with noisy neighbours—I'm sure you get a lot of casework about that in your local patches—and there isn't really much of a network out there at the moment monitoring noise in an industrial setting, at a main road setting. We need to build that network and that will take time, but this expert panel bringing information from, not just scientific networks, but charities and royal colleges that work in this field, will be really useful as well. And looking at the human health aspects as has been outlined as well, because this can really devastate lives in ways you would not necessarily naturally think about, and impact on all kinds of aspects of their health because of the constant sound around them.

Thank you. So, as I mentioned previously, I think there is evidence starting to emerge that the health harms that go with noise are of a similar magnitude to those that go with air, so I think it is critical that we don't disengage the two. I think an expert panel is a really important way of progressing with actions and I think maybe, again, this is critical in making sure that a panel is tasked with bringing forward evidence-based actions. Again, the evidence is important, but a phrase that I particularly like is 'paralysis by analysis', and that's what we need to avoid. The emerging evidence is suggesting that noise causes harm and we need the panel to be tasked with something specific and that is around reducing the noise to which the people of Wales are exposed, with a view to improving their health.

So, just an observation: it's interesting as you talk about how you bring these forward in parallel, and how they might overlap, the implementation of congestion charging zones or the equivalent, could well, if designed appropriately, also mitigate some of the worst sound pollution if that was incorporated within the thinking. So, it's interesting as this Bill goes through. 

Is there anything else that anybody wants to add in terms of the soundscape part of this Bill at this moment, which we're trying, as a committee, to wrestle with? Not at the moment.

Okay, no, thank you very much. Right, we're very nearly at the end of our allocated time, so I won't pursue the smoke-control issue. We've touched on it a few times. We'll possibly follow up with some written questions if we need to and if you're happy to respond to those, if we feel that we need to cover any additional bases. So, can I thank the three of you for being with us this morning? 

Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi am fod gyda ni y bore yma. Rŷn ni'n gwerthfawrogi eich tystiolaeth chi yn fawr iawn. Mi fyddwch chi'n derbyn copi o'r trawsgrifiad drafft ar gyfer ei wirio, ond gyda hynny, dwi, unwaith eto, ar ran y pwyllgor eisiau diolch i chi am eich tystiolaeth ysgrifenedig o flaen llaw, ond hefyd am eich cyfraniadau chi y bore yma—rŷn ni'n eu gwerthfawrogi nhw'n fawr iawn. Diolch yn fawr. Ac mi fydd y pwyllgor nawr yn torri am hanner awr ac mi ddown ni yn ôl am 12:45.

Thank you very much for being with us this morning. We appreciate your evidence very much. You will receive a copy of the draft transcript so that you can check it for accuracy. But with those few words, on behalf of the committee, I want to thank you again for your written evidence but also for your contributions this morning—we very much appreciate them. Thank you very much. And the committee will now break for half an hour and we'll return at 12:45.

So, we'll reconvene at 12.45. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 12:14 a 12:51.

The meeting adjourned between 12:14 and 12:51.

12:50
4. Bil yr Amgylchedd (Ansawdd Aer a Seinweddau) (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
4. The Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill - evidence session 3

Croeso nôl i Bwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Rŷn ni'n symud ymlaen at y sesiwn nesaf o graffu Bil yr Amgylchedd (Ansawdd Aer a Seinweddau) (Cymru), ein trydydd sesiwn dystiolaeth ni y bore yma. Dwi'n croesawu cynrychiolwyr o lywodraeth leol atom ni, yn cynnwys y Cynghorydd Matthew Vaux, sy'n llefarydd gwasanaethau rheoleiddio Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru; Ian Jones, yn cynrychioli Cyfarwyddwyr Diogelu'r Cyhoedd Cymru; Steven Manning, uwch swyddog gwyddonol, cymunedau a'r amgylchedd, gyda Chyngor Dinas Casnewydd; a Tom Price, arweinydd tîm rheoli llygredd Cyngor Abertawe. Croeso i'r pedwar ohonoch chi.

Mi awn ni'n syth i gwestiynau, er mwyn inni allu gwasgu gymaint ag y gallwn ni i mewn i'r awr a chwarter sydd gennym ni o'n blaenau ni. Gwnaf i gychwyn, os caf i, drwy ofyn a ŷch chi o'r farn bod y Bil, fel mae e wedi'i ddrafftio ar hyn o bryd, yn ddigon uchelgeisiol i arwain at welliannau sylweddol yn ansawdd aer a seinweddau Cymru. Ac os nad ŷch chi'n credu ei fod o'n ddigon uchelgeisiol, yna efallai gallwch chi ddweud pam. Pwy sydd eisiau dechrau ar hyn? Oes rhywun eisiau ymateb? Ie, Ian. Thank you.

Welcome back to the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee at the Welsh Parliament. We are moving now to our next evidence session, where we will be scrutinising the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill, our third evidence session this morning. I welcome representatives from local government, including Councillor Matthew Vaux, spokesperson for regulatory services at the Welsh Local Government Association; Ian Jones, representing Directors of Public Protection Wales; Steven Manning, senior scientific officer, community and environment at Newport City Council; and Tom Price, team leader, pollution control, at Swansea Council. A very warm welcome to all four of you.

We'll move immediately to questions so that we can get as much into the hour and a quarter as we possibly can. I will start, if I may, by asking if you are of the view that the Bill, as currently drafted, is sufficiently ambitious to lead to significant improvements in Wales's air quality and soundscapes. And if you don't believe that it's sufficiently ambitious, perhaps you could tell us why. Who would like to kick off? Anybody? Yes, Ian. Thank you.

Thank you, Minister. Local government support the Bill, and its implementations and any improvements and any additional tools to help local government officers safeguard our environment and improve our air quality for residents is welcomed. And we appreciate that, in terms of target setting, there are still further discussions to be had in relation to that. But we're also mindful that local authorities have been at the forefront of clean air for a significant amount of time and have achieved some great success already, and anything we can [Inaudible.] would be welcomed in terms of achieving future goals.

Okay, thank you, and as much as I'd like to be Minister, I'm afraid I have to disappoint you—I'm Chair of the committee. But there we are. That's semantics, I suppose. One day, maybe—who knows? Right, who else wants to come in on this? Just general observations, really. Matthew.

From our point of view, it's the difficulties with the workforce at the moment that we're facing, especially with recruitment. And this is in general, at the moment, especially in the public protection departments. In Ceredigion here, the air quality Bill, going forward, may not cause too much work for us, because of our air quality; we're very lucky that we have very good air quality here. But across Wales, this could put pressures on departments for recruitment, and that's one of the key points we'd like to make there.

Okay, fine. Steve, did you want to come in? No need to operate the mikes—it's all automatic, I'm told. There we are.

Yes, thanks very much. Thank you, Minister. I think the scope is quite exciting and empowering, and the inclusion of the soundscape, in particular, I am very pleased to see, given the natural synergies with the recent technical advice note 11 document and what that will enable us to do in tandem with this Bill. So, that's something that resonates with me.

Yes, okay. We'll be picking up on some of those specifics as we go along. Tom, did you want to come in as well?

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Thank you, Chair. It was just to—Steve has mentioned it there—it was also to highlight, yes, the positive of incorporating soundscape, and the requirement to produce the strategy, for which we're looking forward to the consultation this summer. But, yes, it's bringing the two together and making sure that the review cycles, et cetera, are synced, so that we don't duplicate efforts as well. 

Thank you, Chair. And it's scope I want to turn to, related to active travel of all things. Now, the cross-party group on active travel have submitted some evidence to this, and they look at the scope of the Bill and the title of the Bill—Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill—and that the two purposes of the Bill are to improve air quality, and to assess and manage noise, but, also, of course, 'and connected purposes.' And they've put forward, what I think, as Chair of that group—sorry, I have declared this already—is quite an articulate argument that draws on the evidence of transport being the largest source of nitrogen oxide in Wales, predominantly due to emissions from road transport accounting for approximately a third of emissions, and the effect of road traffic noise level exceeding the WHO's 2009 night noise guidelines, and go on to show how active travel, if we tidied up a couple of elements that weren't done in the original legislation, might indeed be within the scope of this. And one of the things they talk about is extending the duty out wider across other public bodies. 

Has anybody got any thoughts on whether you think this would be a welcome addition to the Bill, to do some tidying up, and whether it might fall within scope as you read the explanatory memorandum and the Bill as drafted? Steve. 

I think you're pushing at an open door, to a certain extent, because quite a few air quality action plans that local authorities are pulling together, and, certainly, the experience in Newport currently, is that active travel and green infrastructure, for example, are pillars of our air quality action plan. So, it's already there in some local authorities. So, formalising that with some regulatory and legislative endorsement would be very welcome. 

And away from the legalese, you can see the pertinence of it to this Bill, clearly.

Oh, absolutely. It's part of the spectrum of measures and realms that impinge upon air quality and climate change, which are inextricably linked. 

Thank you, Steve. Any—. We don't need to have everybody answer, but any dissenting voices, or anybody who wants to concur with what Steve was saying? Matthew, I don't know whether I could ask you.

Yes—sorry, I just turned my mike on and off. I completely agree with what Steve's saying. Especially with our bus network out here, from our local point, all we seem to see are cuts at the moment. And if we could improve our bus network, and improve our active travel routes, especially out here, it would help us significantly, pushing towards targets in the future. 

Thank you, all. Thank you, Chair. A slight diversion, but that's really helpful.

Thank you very much. So, what are your views on the Welsh Government's decision to set air quality targets in regulations rather than on the face of the Bill? Shall I come to you first, Matthew?

Sorry, could you repeat that question?

Yes. What are your views on the Welsh Government's decision to set air quality targets in regulations, subsequently, rather than on the face of the Bill?

I haven't really got a view on that, sorry.

Okay, don't worry, that's fine. Anybody else? The gentleman at the top left; I'm afraid I can't read your nameplate. 

Thank you, Chair. From a local government perspective, we would welcome the air quality targets to be set in regulations, to ensure that they could be evidence based and provide some flexibility. So, from our perspective, we would welcome it. 

Just to add to that, it's quite a specific, quite a detailed sort of approach that's needed when you're looking at setting your target for varying pollutants. So, that research, that evidence base is needed to make sure that we can set an achievable, appropriate, health-based target. So, yes, again, just to say, we welcome the approach to put through regulation as opposed to the Bill, because it allows that evidence gathering to take place, because it will change over time, as we're aware, and we'll put forward the most appropriate health-based standard that we can.

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