Council and professional bodies have accused ministers of passing responsibility for tackling illegal levels of air pollution to local authorities without clarity or adequate funding.
A number of organisations have responded in highly critical terms to the government’s consultation on its draft Air Quality Plan, which ends today (Thursday 15 June).
Michael Gove faces a tough challenge over air quality
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) accused ministers of ‘abdicating responsibility’ for the issue.
Head of policy Tony Lewis said: ‘The Government’s proposals are woefully inadequate to tackle air pollution and place far too much responsibility on the shoulders of our over-stretched local authorities.
‘We stand on the cliff-edge of a national public health emergency and these plans are devoid of substantive proposals, timescales for addressing the key challenges, clarity around targets or even availability of resources to support necessary actions.’
The CIEH said it is concerned by the Government’s confidence that Clean Air Zones (CAZs) are ‘the panacea to solving air pollution’ and that leaving councils to come up with innovative solutions ‘will lead to incoherent and inconsistent approaches to a national problem’.
In a draft consultation response, London Councils said the plan ‘commits to very little action that will be taken by government itself and looks to place the responsibility of dealing with air pollution onto local authorities, without clarity on appropriate regulatory or financial support’.
The body added that the document does not include specific proposals on how to address private vehicles, a focus on reducing car use and action to encourage modal shift to more active and sustainable travel options.
The Urban Transport Group (UTG), which represents transport authorities for the largest city regions, said it does not believe there is sufficient detail in the plan to know whether the problem will be addressed quickly.
It added that it is ‘not satisfied that the draft strategy provides affected areas with the necessary clarity, commitment and funding from national Government that they will need given the scale of the task’.
The UTG said the strategy lacked clarity and put out mixed messages by making vague and general references to the need to not to impede economic growth despite the legal requirement to meet specific legal air quality targets.
It said the Government’s overall approach could be summarised as delegating responsibility to local government; delaying key decisions on the relevant national funding, taxation and policy framework so as to put this process out of sync with any effective local government air quality strategy; and retaining a ‘de facto veto’ over councils’ air quality plans.
ClientEarth, which brought the High Court case requiring ministers to rewrite their national air quality plan, has already returned to the courts to challenge the new draft plan.
New environment secretary Michael Gove’s faces the task of defending the draft plan, with a hearing ordered by the High Court in the coming weeks.
Air pollution is linked to the deaths of 40,000 people a year in the UK.