The LGA continues to influence debates and legislation on the environment.
November was a significant month for the future of the environment, with the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow.
In Parliament, the LGA briefed MPs and LGA vice-presidents ahead of Commons’ debates on limiting global temperatures, the Committee on Climate Change’s 2021 progress report, and, most recently, the impact of air pollution on public health and wellbeing.
We highlighted air pollution as the largest environmental risk to public health, outlined the measures needed to effectively decarbonise transport and noted the importance of local government in achieving these ends.
Air pollution contributes to cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases, costs the UK economy £20 billion a year and is a factor in more than 25,000 deaths a year.
Councils and directors of public health are already tackling air pollution, by introducing clean air zones, encouraging the use of electric vehicles with recharging points, and promoting cycling and walking.
They are also investing in cleaner buses, managing borough-wide air pollution monitoring networks, planning for new places in ways that improve air quality, and engaging with businesses to increase awareness and reduce their environmental impact.
To assist councils, the Government needs to develop consistent national public health messaging about the benefits of clean air zones and take greater ownership of measures to reduce air pollution.
It was disappointing that the Budget and Spending Review did not provide any additional public health funding. Local authorities’ public health grant has been cut by 24 per cent since 2015/16, equivalent to a £1 billion reduction, impacting councils’ ability to address health inequalities created by air pollution.
Keeping people healthy and well throughout their lives reduces pressure on the NHS, social care, criminal justice, and the benefits system.
During the debate, Maria Miller MP (Con, Basingstoke) spoke of the work carried out by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, referencing the local authority’s Clean Air Campaign.
Kate Osamor MP (Lab, Edmonton) also made the case for investing in public transport to reduce air pollution.
Closing the debate, Jo Churchill MP, Minister for Climate Adaptation, outlined efforts undertaken by the Government to improve air quality through the Environment Bill (see right); emphasised the importance of local authorities in air quality improvement; and stressed the need for a joined-up approach that involves the business sector and service providers.
New laws on the environment
The recently enacted Environment Act is a wide-ranging and important piece of legislation for local government.
It aims to improve air quality, restore natural habitats, increase biodiversity, halt the decline of species by 2030, reduce waste and make better use of resources by encouraging recycling.
These changes will be driven by new and legally binding environmental targets, and enforced by a new, independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – which will hold government and public bodies to account on their environmental obligations.
The Environment Act also points to a new environmental relationship between local and national government, with councils taking on a new environmental improvement role in their local areas.
The LGA engaged with the legislation throughout its passage through Parliament. As it is implemented, we are continuing to engage with government on forthcoming regulations and related policy, and to ensure all new duties are accompanied by the powers, flexibilities, support and long-term funding councils need to deliver on the Act’s ambitions.
For more information about the LGA’s parliamentary work, please visit www.local.gov.uk/parliament