When certain topics emerge in Parliament the lack of common sense let alone coherent understanding of how the nation holds together can emerge as it did on Monday. Barry Sheerman, the MP for Huddersfield asked a question about air quality in Schools, directed at Nick Gibb the Schools Minister and MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. The question was:
BS: What plans he has to ensure that all schools monitor air quality at their sites.
The answer was strange on all sorts of levels.
NG: Local authorities are responsible for air quality
This is a good or perhaps bad starting point. One imagines that the quality of air in society is partly a responsibility of the people who determine the planning (so that would be Borough or District Councils along with Town or Parish Councils and then of course Unitary Authorities. However there are a number of planning matters that get transferred to other authorities and in any case air quality is much broader than the impact of new developments and the behaviour of organisations within the geography of a Councils remit.
and must ensure that it meets the standards set in local air quality action plans. If there is concern about the air quality in a school building, it would fall to the body responsible for the school to check that and establish what measures need to be taken to improve air quality.
So now the Academies are also responsible as in many places they now run the Schools, not the local councils. However all of these bodies are accountable to the Government so Nick has failed to answer the question.
Barry then asked another question asking the Government to take air pollution more seriously and Nick responded with “The Government take the safety of pupils extremely seriously. We recently published technical guidance on air quality in schools” and he then goes on to outline some of the elements. However this response provoked a neighbouring MP, Tim Loughton from East Worthing to ask:
TL: The Minister will know that a controversial housing development on the A27, one of the busiest roads in the south-east, includes plans for a new school. Local air pollution monitoring equipment does not even work. Does he not think that it is crazy to put a new school right next to such a busy road and should that not be a planning consideration when locating schools in future?
and so once again Nick manages to let his shoulder slope down to the ground:
NG: My hon. Friend raises an important point; we take air quality very seriously. It is a matter for West Sussex County Council to ensure that every school that is built in that county has high-quality air for the pupils in those schools.
Now of course the decision to build Schools as part of a road building process depends in part on who is building the road. If it was being paid for and commissioned by Highways England but assuming that the work is being carried out by a private business then they may have some decision making, so too do the Borough or District Authority planners along with the Town or Parish Councils. Of course the County Council oversees Schools so they get a say and then the people who fund the School, which used to be the County Council. If one was treating this with any credibility, the Government would be the body to draw all of these things together to ensure that there was consistency in the planning and application of policies. In addition to the School there will be housing which adds to the list of issues. However it appears that Nick Gibb does not see it like that, and so local people who share the concerns expressed by Tim Loughton are left unsure which agency to turn to!