Defra ‘pushing clean air responsibility onto councils’

14 Jan 19

The government has been accused of shunting its responsibility for tackling air pollution onto cash-strapped councils.

Local authorities will be handed new powers to tackle air pollution, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ ‘clean air strategy’ confirmed today.

When asked by PF, a spokesperson for Defra said they were not yet able to say what the new powers were or when they would come in.

This comes eight months after Defra released the consultation for the plans, in which it said powers for councils could include the ability to crack down on illegal smoke emissions.

Sue Hayman, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said: “This strategy is typical of what we have come to expect from this government on illegal air pollution: vague targets, no detail and a chronic failure to tackle the issue of roadside pollutants."

She suggested the proposals showed “an abdication of responsibility to continue to shunt this problem onto cash-strapped local authorities.”

Martin Tett, environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said if councils were to get new powers to tackle air pollution it would have to come with extra funding.

“Councils are determined to reduce the impact of harmful emissions on the health of our communities but if the government’s air quality plans and any new local powers are to be successful, they need to be underpinned by local flexibility and sufficient funding,” he said.

Tamara Sandoul, policy manager at membership body the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: “We will wait to see what the extent of their new powers will be.

“We are also disappointed that the government has opted for targets rather than legally binding limits to protect the public’s health.”

Debbie Wood, executive director for policy and external affairs at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, also called for the government not to dump responsibility for clear air onto councils, in a blog for PF in May last year.

The Defra spokesperson told PF: “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.”

Defra’s plan noted that the department has previously committed a £275m implementation fund to enable local authorities to take necessary action to improve air quality, and a £220m clean air fund to help them minimise the impact of local plans on individuals and businesses.

It aims to cut the cost of air pollution to the public purse by £1.7bn every year until 2020, rising to £5.3bn annually from 2030. 

Environment secretary Michael Gove said: “The evidence is clear. While air quality has improved significantly in recent years, air pollution continues to shorten lives, harm our children and reduce quality of life.

“We must take strong, urgent action. Our ambitious strategy includes new targets, new powers for local government and confirms that our forthcoming environment bill will include primary legislation on air quality.”

In December, the government announced that public health grants would fall by £85m in 2019-20.

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