Councils could be given more powers to tackle the source of air pollution

Members of Southend Council have welcomed Government proposals that could see environmental planning regulations tightened and new powers handed to councils to allow them to tackle the source of air pollution.

The announcement comes after Southend Council joined a number of other councils in Essex in declaring a climate emergency, pledging to have the entire borough be carbon neutral by 2030.

The Government announced the new legislation as part of a new Environment Bill, which could be introduced once the UK leaves the European Union.

It would see planning regulations revised so that developers have stricter obligations to protect existing habitats or having to pay for land restoration. Councils have also been promised additional powers to “address the sources of air pollution – such as emissions from burning coal and wood”.

Liberal Democrat councillor Carole Mulroney, who oversees environment and planning in Southend, said: “The declaration of a climate change emergency just passed by the council specifically calls for Government aid to councils to fulfil the myriad of commitments in a wide range of fields that we have to work on  to ensure we respond effectively to the emergency.

“So in that respect any additional powers – and of course funding, which is not mentioned – is to be welcomed.

“Having said that Government needs to ensure that such powers are broad enough to address the varying needs of individual local authorities. One size will not fit all as we are finding out with the housing targets that have been set and it will be interesting to see how the bill will fit in with those targets and the need for infrastructure that they bring.”

Councillor Matt Dent (LAB), who originally called for a climate emergency declaration to be made, said: “The air pollution powers would be particularly welcome in Southend which has some of the worst levels in the country.

“A problem that councils often have is the constraints we have in terms of what powers the Government chooses to give us.”

Councillor Alex Bright (Con), who oversaw the environment for the previous administration, added: “The Government’s intention of increasing local powers to address sources of air pollution, enabling local authorities to work with families to cut harmful pollution from domestic burning by using cleaner fuels, is to be welcomed, especially as we work locally to become carbon neutral.

The introduction of the Environment Bill was one of the biggest announcements in the Queen’s Speech on Monday. However, opposition parties have been left sceptical by the announcements with many believing that a general election is imminent.

Many of the proposals have been labelled nothing more than a post-Brexit wish-list designed to win an election.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “the huge star of our legislative programme which will guide our country towards a cleaner and greener future”.

Cllr Carole Mulroney

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter