§ Mr. Burgon
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he expects to announce his conclusions from the review of the Air Quality Strategy objective for particles. 
§ Mr. Meacher
The Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was published on 19 January 2000 following an extensive review of the original Strategy. This sets air quality objectives for eight air pollutants that have the potential for significant health effects. These objectives are to be achieved between 2003 and 2008.
The new Strategy replaces the original objective for particles with new objectives derived from the EU Stage 1 limit values for 2005. This was considered to be the only realistic option in view of the latest information that showed that the original objective would not be achievable in the short term, even with the most ambitious emission reduction measures. The Strategy explains that the new objectives for particles are seen as a staging post and not a final outcome. It goes on to say that the Government are concerned to set their sights beyond the immediate need to comply with the EU limit values, and that work has been set in hand which will enable the prospects for strengthening these objectives to be assessed before the next general review of the Strategy.
This work is nearing completion. The most significant area of work is likely to be advice from the Department of Health's Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) on the chronic effects of air pollution. To date, the health implications of particle air pollution have tended to focus on the acute, short-term effects. COMEAP's 1998 report suggested that the deaths of over 8,000 vulnerable people may be brought forward and over 10,000 hospital admissions and re-admissions may be associated with short-term air pollution each year. Evidence is now beginning to emerge which suggests that the long-term chronic effects of particle air pollution may 199W be considerably more significant. COMEAP has been asked by the Department of Health to consider the evidence and the Committee is expected to report shortly.
Advice from COMEAP may, if relevant, be used to support a quantification of the benefits to health from reducing concentrations of particles. These health benefits, along with the information that we already have on the acute health effects of particle pollution, can be considered alongside the latest information on the measures to reduce particle concentrations. A comprehensive study of the costs of emission reduction measures is in hand, as is further modelling work, that will show the impact that recently announced policy measures are likely to have on concentrations of particles over the next few years.
I now intend the review of the objectives for particles to commence in March, to allow time for these various pieces of work to be completed. I expect to be in a position to consult on proposals for a new objective for particles by the end of June.
It is not intended to propose a change to the existing objective for particles. It is important that local authorities have a period of stability as they take forward the local air quality management process. Any new objective will be for the longer term.
In the meantime, the trend in urban air quality is continuing to improve. I announced earlier this month that in 2000 in urban areas there were 17 days of moderate or higher air pollution on average per site, the lowest figure recorded since the series began in 1993. Days of moderate or higher air pollution caused by particles have fallen steeply since 1993.