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Extra powers to tackle air pollution mooted

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The government is to consult on introducing new legislation that will give councils more powers to tackle air pollution.

Reducing high levels of nitrogen dioxide is “the most immediate and urgent” challenge facing councils, according to the government’s clean air strategy, published today.

The government has ordered 28 councils to produce plans to reduce NO2 levels, and is working with another 33 councils on less immediate action to reduce the problem, the strategy says.

“New legislation will create a stronger and more coherent framework for action to tackle air pollution,” it adds. “This will be underpinned by new England-wide powers to control major sources of air pollution, in line with the risk they pose to public health and the environment, plus new local powers to take action in areas with an air pollution problem.”

Martin Tett (Con), the Local Government Association environment spokesman, said: “Councils recognise the impact that harmful emissions have on our communities and are determined to tackle it in all its forms. If the government’s air quality plans are to be successful, they not only need to be underpinned by local flexibility and sufficient funding but also accompanied by robust national action.”

Cllr Tett said it is “important” councils have the necessary powers to tackle air pollution, “particularly with regard to clean air zones as well as expanded road and traffic measures”. He added: “If we’re to truly tackle air pollution, we need government support to enable us to deliver effective local plans, and robust national action to help the country transition to low-emission vehicles and power generation.”

Tony Lewis, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said he was “happy” the government is to consult on introducing primary legislation to “start tackling the very real air quality crisis this country faces” as well a commitment to clamp down on the sale and combustion of known polluting fuels, such as those used on wood burning stoves and open fires, as long as it “does not discriminate against the most disadvantaged in society”.

“However, whilst giving local government the powers to take much-needed action is a step forwards, there must be clear leadership from central government,” said Mr Lewis. “There cannot be simply more abdication of responsibilities to an already over stretched and ill resourced local government sector.”

Also being announced today, by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, is a new tool for local authorities which will enable them to estimate the economic impact of air pollution in their area. The tool, developed for Public Health England by Imperial College and the UK Health Forum, takes account of the cumulative cost for diseases where there is a strong association with air pollution: coronary heart disease; stroke; lung cancer; and child asthma.

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