Councils are to be handed new powers to tackle domestic emissions as part of a government drive to improve air quality.
Under the Clean Air Strategy announced today, action is to be taken to make smoke control areas – where it is illegal to allow smoke emissions from chimneys - easier to enforce.
In future, a national approach to smoke control is to be taken which can then be built on by local authorities, the government said.
Councils may be allowed to go further in areas of high pollution, with, for example, new powers to increase the rate of upgrades of inefficient and polluting heating appliances.
“We will also consider what additional, stronger local powers would be effective to further reduce pollution from domestic burning where there is a clear case that action needs to be taken to protect human health,” the strategy said.
“We will improve and develop new guidance on when existing local and national powers should be used in times of high air pollution.”
Central and local government would also work closely together to provide support for directors of public health to take action to tackle air pollution at local level and to inform how planning could avoid creating air pollution problems.
“We will work with local authorities and directors of public health to equip and enable them to lead and inform local decision-making to improve air quality more effectively,” the strategy said.
Guidance would be provided for local authorities to explain how the cumulative impacts of nitrogen deposition on natural habitats should be mitigated and assessed through the planning system, it added.
Stressing the need for greater local action on air pollution, the government said it would ensure responsibility sat “at the right tier of local government” and back this up with new powers, as well as making existing powers easier to use.
The strategy, launched by environment secretary Michael Gove, aims to cut the cost of air pollution to society by £1.7bn every year by 2020, rising to £5.3bn from 2030.
Mr Gove said the case for “strong urgent action” was clear. “While air quality has improved significantly in recent years, air pollution continues to shorten lives, harm our children and reduce quality of life,” he said.
“Our ambitious strategy includes new targets, new powers for local government and confirms that our forthcoming Environment Bill will include new primary legislation on air quality.
“While air pollution may conjure images of traffic jams and exhaust fumes, transport is only one part of the story and the new strategy sets out the important role all of us - across all sectors of work and society - can play in reducing emissions and cleaning up our air to protect our health.”
Martin Tett, environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, said that if the government’s air quality plans were to be successful, they had to be underpinned by local flexibility and sufficient funding.
“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,” he said.