Environment secretary John Gummer has outlined local government's role in The United Kingdom Air Quality Strategy, a consultation document which honours a commitment made in the Environment Act 1995 to develop plans for tackling air pollution.
The strategy outlines 'clear targets which set out the progress the government wants to make by 2005,' Mr Gummer said.
'This will be based on both existing and new measures, including a new system of local air quality management, new vehicle and fuel standards, and a fierce crackdown on vehicle and industrial emissions.'
Councils have a key role to play, he stressed, and made clear 'they will need to be supported in their efforts to tackle pollution hotspots by businesses, local groups and individuals'.
The air quality standards are based on advice from the UK Expert Panel on Air Quality Standards and World Health Organisation advice. They affect pollutants such as carbon monoxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and benzene.
The Department of Transport is responsible for drafting regulations for a pilot scheme on how councils deal with drivers of vehicles with illegal exhaust emissions.
Labour called for councils to have the power to impose tougher standards than the government plans to proscribe, as well as giving them stronger planning controls.
Liberal Democrat transport spokesman David Chidgey accused the government of passing the buck on reducing air pollution to councils. 'They propose to make local councils responsible for enforcing controls, but have ducked their responsibility for introducing a national transport strategy with funding to support it,' he said.
Consultation on the paper ends on November 21.