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Councils in the driving seat over air quality

Local authorities will have to create their own local air quality plans, under new plans announced by the government.

Papers published yesterday by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show all local authorities would be required to implement measures in order to cut pollution levels ‘as soon as possible’.

According to the report, as air quality improves at a national level ‘hotspots are going to become even more localised’ and ‘the importance of action at a local level will increase’.

It also states ministers will provide a ‘clear national framework’ with the steps that local authorities need to take, although there are no details about the framework at this stage.

The report does list a series of potential measures, including encouraging the uptake of electric and low emission vehicles, restricting access to more polluting cars and charging schemes.

And ministers also announced they would make £255m available to councils to implement the new plans.

‘Today’s plans sets out how we will work with local authorities to tackle the effects of roadside pollution caused by dirty diesels, in particular nitrogen dioxide,’ said environment secretary, Michael Gove.

Last month, Oxford council called for more powers and funding to tackle air pollution in its city.

Speaking to New Start yesterday, councilor Tom Hayes, whose ward includes the most polluted road in Oxford city centre – St Clement’s Street – said his initial impression was that there was ‘nothing really substantial’ in the new report.

‘It feels like it is passing the buck to councils, with no statutory help,’ said Hayes.

The president of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, Simon Neilson, commented that ‘local authorities are often best placed to take local action, as they know their areas’, but also warned ‘it would be more helpful to have a set of nationally agreed options to support councils with technical expertise, time and resource’

‘Charging is one of the most effective and speediest measure open to local authorities, but we think the government should have shown strong, national commitment to implementation, rather than leaving it to local authorities to introduce such politically unpalatable measures,’ he added.

And Birmingham council’s director of public health, Adrian Philips, said its ‘greatest concern is that the time for councils to take real action is fast running out’.

‘Responsibility should not rest solely with local authorities,’ said Philips. ‘The council believes that clean air is a basic human right and air pollution is a major issue for all of us as it affects our health and the health of our children and has a cradle to grave impact. We all have a responsibility to improve air quality as quickly as possible.’

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