Clean Air Strategy: local authorities must do more, says government

More onus on tackling air pollution will be placed on local authorities, according to the government’s Clean Air Strategy which was published this morning (January 14).

It says the current framework regarding air pollution does not ‘effectively encourage’ local authorities to work collaboratively across departmental or structural boundaries and has not driven sufficient action at a local level, with the strategy proposing a ‘lead authority’ with requirements on neighbouring local authorities and other public bodies to work collectively to tackle air pollution.

Five local authorities were ordered by government to explore the need for a Clean Air Zone (CAZs) to meet legal limits for the emission of nitrogen dioxide, an air pollutant that is largely produced by road traffic sources.

However, the Clean Air Strategy didn’t expand on previous announcements around CAZs, which was criticised today by campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) who called for the introduction of a national network of CAZs, which they say would be ‘by far’ the most effective solution to the urban air pollution problem.

Greg Archer, T&E’s UK director, said: ‘This new strategy once again fails to tackle the UK’s biggest source of air pollution, the seven million dirty diesel cars on the UK’s roads.’

The government also say they want councils to shift the focus towards prevention rather than tackling air pollution only when limits are surpassed.

They say they will require local authorities to create an action plan to reduce exposure during Air Pollution Episodes, which are periods when weather conditions cause pollutant concentrations to build up above normal levels. The strategy also says that greater local action on PM2.5 will be encouraged by updating the Smoke Control Area (SCA) framework, which they say is ‘difficult to enforce and out of date.’

The government also say they will strengthen guidance for councils on air quality issues surrounding industrial emissions, private hire vehicle licensing and planning practice to make local action ‘easier and less burdensome.’

Martin Tett, environment spokesman for the Local Government Association said councils must be backed with extra funding and powers if the local authorities are to play their part.

‘Councils are determined to reduce the impact of harmful emissions on the health of our communities but if the Government’s air quality plans and any new local powers are to be successful, they need to be underpinned by local flexibility and sufficient funding,’ he said.

‘Councils also need local powers to further tackle air pollution, particularly with regard to moving traffic offences, government support on planning and transport matters, and robust national action to help the country transition to low-emission vehicles and power generation.’

Paula Hewitt, chair of the Association of Director of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) environment board said the government must ‘put its own house in order’ to ensure central government invests in air quality prevention along with councils.

‘Any new powers and duties for councils must be fully funded. ADEPT is working with Defra to determine which level of local government should play the lead role,’ she said.

‘Government must also put its own house in order so that key planning and spending decisions made by central departments — including Transport, Housing and Defence — to take account of the need to reduce air pollution.’

Defra said they will ‘look to support local government to ensure it is able to fully cover their costs’ surrounding new air quality measures.


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