Cash-strapped councils breaking the law on air pollution, documents reveal

Exclusive poll for The Independent shows public – and most Conservative voters – back banning the most-polluting cars from city centres as pressure builds on the Government

It has been described as a “public health emergency” responsible for tens of thousands of deaths every year, but dozens of local councils have been failing to report on air pollution as required by law for years.

The revelation, based on documents obtained under Freedom of Information rules, casts doubt on local authorities’ ability to play their part in the Government’s new draft Air Quality Plan – its third attempt to meet minimum safety standards after repeatedly being taken to court by campaigners.

Ministers had sought to delay publication of the plan until after the general election, with a Government lawyer arguing it would drop a “controversial bomb” on the campaign.

But a judge ordered ministers to comply with a court-ordered deadline and the resultant plan was duly derided as “feeble” and “much weaker” than expected.

Public concern about air pollution has been growing. A new survey for The Independent found the majority of the public is now in favour of banning the most-polluting vehicles from city centres.

Some 51 per cent of respondents agreed with this suggestion, with only 15 per cent against and the remainder not expressing a view, pollsters ORB said.

The Government’s latest Air Quality Plan sought to pass the buck to a large degree to councils, saying they were “best placed to take the lead”.

However, the council documents, obtained by the DeSmog UK environmental news website, show that local authorities have already been failing to carry out the current requirements, suggesting they would struggle to cope with further responsibilities without extra funding.

Of the 77 councils contacted, 59 had not made air pollution reports, which must be produced under the 1995 Environment Act, available to the public.

After the website got in touch with the councils, 34 authorities were found to have gaps in their reporting between 2011 and 2016, although some said they were still in the process of producing reports covering last year. If this is a representative sample, it would mean 44 per cent of councils in the country are failing to properly monitor and assess the extent of air pollution.

Mat Hope, deputy editor of DeSmog UK, said:

“I think it shows local councils need resources to be able to deal with this problem properly.

“I think the councils themselves are doing what they can, but with the current budget constraints it’s clear they are likely to struggle with the extra obligations under the new Air Quality Plan.

“The Government needs to think very hard about the resources they are putting behind this.”

Read more: The Independent via Fuel Included News