Labour puts councils at centre of air quality policy

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle also hints at wider scope of policies in proposed national framework

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle has suggested that local authorities would be at the forefront of Labour’s plans to tackle UK air pollution at a local Labour Party meeting in North London last night (April 14).

On the campaign trail ahead of the May 7 elections, Ms Eagle told the small audience: “We will give local authorities the power and the responsibility to tackle air pollution.”

Labour's shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle was speaking at a meeting in North London last night (April 14)

Labour’s shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle was speaking at a meeting in North London last night (April 14)

She said that tackling air pollution “really goes to the heart of what we want to do” and that “we can’t expect people to just move away from areas of bad air pollution”.

And, she added that although official figures put the number of annual premature UK deaths from air pollution at 29,000 “we know that those numbers are probably underestimated”.

The event was hosted by the local Labour candidate Catherine West, a former chair of the London Council’s Transport and Environment Committee and Islington council leader and followed the launch of Labour’s 2015 election manifesto on Monday (see story).

But while Labour officially announced its policy of introducing a national framework for local authorities to bring in low emission zones in August 2014 (see story), the manifesto launched this week stops short of specifically mentioning low emission zones.

The Labour manifesto states the Party’s intention to “deal with the problems of air pollution by giving local authorities the powers they need, backed up by a national framework”.

And indeed, speaking last night Ms Eagle hinted that such a framework might in fact include a wider scope of policies for local authorities to tackle air quality locally, but stopped short of any specifics.

But, she explained that Labour’s devolution agenda set out in its manifesto would “enable local authorities to choose their priorities”.

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but we need to have a framework so that they know they are approaching it in the right way,” the Labour MP for Garston and Halewood in Liverpool said.

Later in the meeting, Ms Eagle also hinted that a Labour government would take a more hands-on approach with regard to environmental issues than the current coalition government.

There was also audible laughter in the audience when Ms Eagle said the government had suggested local authorities may have to pay potential fines handed down to the UK for not meeting EU nitrogen dioxide reduction targets.

When criticising the current Defra administration’s 2013 decision to step away from introducing new policy on waste and recycling, she said it was important to “believe in the efficacy of government” to set a policy framework on the environment.

“It is basic common sense,” she added.


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