Alex Sobel took on the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove yesterday, challenging him on the recent decision to reject funding for Leeds Clean Air Zone.
Leeds’ £40 million plan was rejected based on cost last month. Environment minister Therese Coffey made clear that the plans would only be accepted if Leeds City Council submitted a reduced bid.
As Mr Sobel pointed out, this decision was made after the minister had previously praised Leeds on their plan, but before Leeds had requested the money to fund it.
Leeds City Council have put forward a new offer, finding savings from their plan, but have stressed that any further reduction would risk the success of the project.
Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West, used his platform as a member of the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee to interrogate the Environment Secretary about the decision.
Addressing Mr Gove, Alex Sobel said
“Three and a half years ago, eight cities were mandated to solve a problem, one of those was Leeds City Council, who worked with DEFRA and produced a very robust plan. Therese Coffey came here and sat where you are sat and praised Leeds for their work. Now, Leeds put forward that they need £40m to fund it and it’s been rejected. Is there a cap on how much councils can get and are you committed to them being able to meet their clean air targets?”
Mr Gove committed to investigate the matter and discuss it with Therese Coffey saying, “I take your point,” but stressed a limit to overall funding for all of the cities. Mr Gove would not be drawn on Mr Sobel’s further question about whether Derby’s decision to not go ahead with their air quality plan would create more funding for the other cities.
Finally, Mr Sobel asked, “And if it's clear that the whole funding available, isn't sufficient for these mandated cities to meet their air quality targets, do you intend to go back to the treasury to seek more funds?”
Mr Gove replied that whilst he didn’t want to “strong arm the chancellor.” He would be happy to look at proposals from “fair minded bids and requests from local authorities for the support they need.”
Leader of Leeds City Council Judith Blake said “I am pleased that Alex has held the Secretary of State to account and I’d like to thank him for his persistence on this issue. We have produced a counter offer to the Government which we believe is more than reasonable. It is vital that the Clean Air Zone is properly funded so that we can implement it successfully and ensure that local businesses are properly supported in the process.”