Choking Wales: AMs debate Air Quality as Welsh Government faces lawsuit

(Title Image: ITV Wales)

The Issue

Poor air quality is estimated to be a contributory cause of up to 2,000 deaths every year in Wales and in November, six Welsh towns and cities – Cardiff, Swansea, Port Talbot, Newport, Chepstow and Wrexham – were listed amongst places in the UK with air pollution above World Health Organisation limits.

The green campaign group ClientEarth secured a High Court date of 23rd February 2018 for legal action against the Welsh Government to start, claiming the Welsh Government have ignored the needs of some communities facing these high levels of pollution.


The Motion (Amended Version)


The Senedd:

  • Acknowledges the urgent need to tackle poor air quality and calls on the Welsh Government to treat air pollution as a public health issue.
  • Supports a clean air plan for Wales to deliver improvements over and above legal compliance including: a clean air zone framework, improvements to reporting air quality levels, establishing a national air quality assessment centre and raising public awareness of poor air quality to change behaviour.
  • Calls on the UK Government to back up its commitment to phase out new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 with a concrete set of milestones.
  • Recognises the need to decarbonise the transport sector and welcomes £2 million towards electric vehicle charging as a result of Plaid Cymru’s budget agreement.

Key Points


Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)
For (the motion, if amended): It’s a serious public health issue.

  • There needs to be a move away from plans and frameworks to mandatory actions; there was a missed opportunity to include air quality in the Public Health Act.
  • This is an entirely devolved area so it’s hard to place much blame on UK Government.
  • Poor air quality is the second most common cause of premature death in Wales after smoking.

Shadow Environment Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)
For (if amended): Local problems need local solutions.

  • Overall air quality has improved but there are still highly localised problems that require localised solutions.
  • There should be a partnership between Welsh and UK governments to ensure the phase-out of petrol and diesel vehicles happens.
  • The British Lung Foundation found that 57% of local authorities in the UK weren’t monitoring air quality within 10 metres of schools – an indicator of the sort of work we should be doing.

John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East)
For: Focus on transport and urban design.

  • Measures to encourage walking and cycling need the full and enthusiastic commitment of the Welsh Government.
  • Tree planting means planting the right kinds of trees; there are examples of trees being planted in urban areas that have caused problems later.
  • If taxi fleets converted to LPG, for example, the costs could be recouped within 2 years on average.

Caroline Jones AM (UKIP, South Wales West)
For (in principle): Solve the practical problems.

  • The Welsh Government can take action now to reduce traffic congestion, which is the main contributor to poor air quality.
  • Air pollution monitoring should be done at a national level and not left to health boards.
  • Wireless vehicle charging should be developed ahead of an increase in electric vehicles.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central)
For: Encourage people to leave the car at home.

  • The car lobby is very powerful and will need to be faced down; car use for regular journeys has risen from 27% in the 1950s to over 80% now.
  • The cost of driving continues to be relatively cheap while rail and bus fares rise and rise.
  • Some pollutants from diesel engines as well as nitrogen dioxide contribute to brain damage and mental disorders in children.

Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli)
For: This is a result of going for quick-fixes instead of long-term planning.

  • Building new roads doesn’t solve problems just shifts them elsewhere.

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley)
For: It’s a social justice issue.

  • The most deprived 10% of communities deal with five times the cancer-causing emissions of the 10% wealthiest communities.

Welsh Government Response


Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn AM (Lab, Delyn)

  • The Welsh Government are taking “immediate action” to address poor air quality including better reporting of air quality by local authorities and a new clean air framework.
  • Clean air zones will have measures introduced to reduce all forms of air pollution tailored to their particular area.
  • Early work has started on establishing an air monitoring centre, while the Air Quality Wales website (which will offer advice to the public) will launch this month.
  • The Welsh Government are prepared to consider legislative measures if and when necessary.


The amended motion was unanimously approved.

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