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Government’s air quality plans don’t go far enough, say council leaders

Published on 26 July 2017

PLANS by the Government to improve air quality ‘risk displacing the problem rather than solving it’, according to a letter written to Michael Gove and signed by political leaders from local councils up and down the country.

The letter from UK100, a network of local government leaders, calls for UK towns and cities to make the transition to 100% clean energy by 2050. It has been signed by city mayor Peter Soulsby and Cllr Adam Clarke, assistant city mayor responsible for the environment.

The Government’s air quality strategy urges local authorities to try and reduce emissions by retrofitting older diesel vehicles, changing road layouts and removing speed humps. It says placing restrictions on vehicles should be a last resort, and implies local councils should choose whether or not they want to introduce a clean air zone.

It also says the sale of new diesel and petrol cars should be banned by 2040, and people should be encouraged to buy electric vehicles instead.

Cllr Clarke said: “We know all cities face challenges to tackle air pollution and we need Government support – and funding – to meet those challenges.

“The premise of all new vehicles having to be electric in 2040 is welcome, but that’s a very long way away. Until then, the government appears to be promoting a post code lottery, where investment in one area could push traffic, congestion and pollution to another.

“That’s why we’re calling for the Government to act more decisively by introducing national legislation, rather than leaving councils to compete for funding to deliver as yet unproven and potentially counter-productive schemes.”

As part of its Air Quality Action Plan, the city council has already said it will commit to delivering a clean air zone – by 2026, or sooner if possible.

Cllr Clarke added: “Despite Government data showing we’re doing much better than comparable cities, we’re still above EU limits and need government support to reduce pollution in the quickest possible time. As well as more funds, we need greater powers, better guidance and better Government analysis of data, so that we can deliver our Air Quality Action Plan as soon as possible.”

Leicester’s Air Quality Action Plan looks to deliver improvements by introducing a low emission zone for buses by the end of this year, and later implementing an ultra-low emission zone that would cover all vehicles larger than a motorcycle.

The plan also commits to extending the city’s award-winning Connecting Leicester works, which help to promote sustainable travel such as walking and cycling by making improvements to the public realm.

Cllr Clarke added: “We have started to take clear and positive steps to tackle air quality, but we know there’s still much to do in Leicester. Our nitrogen dioxide levels are still above the EU target level of 40ug/m3, and we’re concerned the Government’s projections of our levels of this pollutant are overly optimistic.

“It’s vitally important that we continue to tackle air pollution, because it is bad for people’s health - cleaner air is better for our economy too. The plans for 2040 are welcome, but we’d like the government to introduce legislation to protect all urban areas from pollution as soon as possible, instead of concentrating on those cities that have the poorest air quality currently.”

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