Alternative fuels power the drive to combat atmospheric pollution

The drive to clean up atmospheric pollution in towns and cities is being stepped up on several fronts, at global, national and local government level - by setting increasingly stringent emissions standards - and also by the development of new technology offering alternative, environmentally clean fuels

Assessing the scale and nature of air pollution is the first step to taking effective action to improve air quality. DEFRA has recently set up a new Expert Group, chaired by Prof Mike Pilling of Leeds University, to examine sources and levels of pollution in the UK. Its main functions include:

Michael Meacher said: "It is essential to get a better understanding of air pollution, to help us assess the impacts of any strategies for reduction we may propose. Assessing the levels and sources of pollution is especially complex, since the levels found in the UK typically come from a range of sectors, including industry, transport and the natural environment, not to mention the pollutants which have come from other countries."

The Government published a new Air Quality Strategy last year on which it is currently undertaking a first partial review.

NSCA guidance
Local authorities have a key role to play in managing the drive to improve air quality. Councils will be aided by new powers to target polluting vehicles announced recently by DTLR Minister for Transport, John Spellar.

The National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection (NSCA) has published its guidance to local authorities on the development of air quality action plans and local air quality strategies, Air Quality: Planning for Action. The guidance, written by a group of leading practitioners, consultants and academics, focuses on the process for developing action plans and strategies and offers advice on ways to overcome the problems which will be encountered along the way. Interim guidance was published in November last year and has already been widely used by local authorities.

Because it deals with both statutory Air Quality Action Plans and non-statutory air quality strategies, the guidance is applicable to all local authorities, not just those declaring Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA). It comes at a crucial time as the majority of local authorities have recently finished their Review and Assessment reports and are deciding on the next steps. Some 45 authorities have already declared an AQMA and another 30 have stated their intention to do so. For those authorities not declaring an AQMA, NSCA is strongly urging the development of local air quality strategies, either individually or as groups of neighbouring authorities.

The guidance makes it clear that for action plans and local strategies to be successful, however, they need to be well planned and must involve a wide range of interests and expertise both within and outside local authorities. They also need to gain the support of local communities through consultation and participation.

Tim Williamson, Policy Officer with NSCA, said: "This is a crucial time for local air quality management, as we move for the first time from reviewing and monitoring to taking action. If action plans and strategies are to be make a real difference on the ground, they must be properly planned and implemented, and they must gain ownership beyond the confines of Environmental Health where LAQM currently resides."

Alternative fuels
Help to improve air quality include fiscal measures to discourage car use, as with London Mayor Ken Livingstone's proposed congestion tax in the capital's central area, the provision of better transport within towns, such as building tram systems, plus the use of vehicles powered alternative fuels.

TransportAction CleanUp, the Government funded initiative run by the Energy Saving Trust to help cur air pollution, plays a significant role in reducing pollution by emissions from vehicles over 3.5 tonnes through awarding grants which fund the fitting of particulate traps and oxidation catalysts or assisting conversion to compressed natural gas (CNG). The complementary programme, PowerShift aims to create a sustainable market for new, mainly small vehicles (cars and vans) which run on clean fuels.

For example, TransportAction CleanUp is to award grant money totalling around £100,000 to seven local authorities to enable them to reduce harmful emissions from their vehicle fleets. The money will go to schemes such as Camden LBC's fitting of Dinex particulate traps to six refuse collection vehicles and oxidation catalysts to 20 mini buses.


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