MPs call for councils to have power to create clean air zones

Clean air zones should be introduced in UK cities to tackle the problems caused by air pollution, according to a new report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.

The new report warned that air pollution is a “public health emergency”, linked to the early deaths of 40,000–50,000 people every year from cardiac, respiratory and other diseases, as well as harming the environment and agriculture.

It also found European Union limits on nitrogen dioxide pollution were breached in 38 out of 43 UK areas.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is currently planning to introduce clean air zones on a number of cities, but the committee warned that this risks imposing a ‘one size fits all’ approach, with too much responsibility being given to councils but not enough power.

Neil Parish MP, chair of the committee, said: “The zones need to deliver local solutions to local problems. Defra’s proposed 'one-size-fits-all' clean air zones will set rigid rules on cities as diverse as Southampton and Leeds.”

The only councils being given powers to set clean air zones are the ones with the worst pollution: Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton.

Parish said powers over clean air zones must be expanded to many more councils and include the power to set the controls best suited to the community’s needs.

However, Cllr Martin Tett, environment spokesperson for the LGA, said: “Clean air zones may have a role in some places but on their own they are not the answer to tackling air pollution.

“Councils need a range of powers and devolved funding to allow them to further tackle poor air quality.”

He said these powers should include the power to tackle congestion hot spots and promote sustainable transport.

He also repeated calls by the LGA for the government to fully fund the concessionary bus fare scheme.

Today’s report suggested a number of initiatives to improve local funding for clean air zones, including support for programmes to encourage people to use public transport, walk and cycle and compensation to councils for costs of implementing clean air zones that they can’t recoup from fines on drivers.

They also said that Defra, in partnership with the DCLG, should preserve funding for wider programmes, such as those supported by the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which deliver increased sustainability in a cost-effective manner.

(Image: anti-air pollution protesters outside the Department for Transport yesterday, c. Frank Augstein from AP/ Press Association Images)


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