Duties of Local Authorities in Relation to Designated Areas

Clause 83 – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 28th June 1995.

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Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood 9:45 pm, 28th June 1995

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 102, line 1, leave out from 'where' to 'about' in line 4 and insert 'an action plan or a revision of an action plan is being prepared for an area for which there is a county council and a district council; and if in a case where this subsection applies the county council and the district council disagree'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 16, in page 102, line 8, leave out from 'confirm' to 'reject' in line 11 and insert 'an action plan for the area, either as proposed by the county council or as proposed by the district council, or with such modifications as he may reasonably consider appropriate, or he may'. No. 17, in clause 85, page 103, line 43, leave out clause 85.

No. 18, in clause 90, page 109, leave out lines 16 to 17 and insert— '(b) in respect of any area for which there is a county council and a district council, the county council and the district council acting jointly.'. No. 21, in schedule 11, page 201, line 29, leave out sub-paragraph (e).

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood

This is a focused group of amendments and I do not intend to detain the House. Their purpose is to ensure that there is a real partnership between counties and district councils in taking action to improve air quality.

Under the Government's proposals, the district councils and the unitary authorities are taking a proactive role in creating an action plan to improve air quality. In contrast, as it stands, the county function is more passive. County participation in the action plan is as a consultee of the district. It has the ability to make recommendations, and the power, if agreement cannot be reached, to refer matters to the Secretaries of State.

Counties have an important role in improving air quality. Let me give just two examples. First, vehicle emissions are viewed increasingly as a major source of pollutants. Of course, county councils are highway authorities. They implement and introduce traffic management schemes and are very involved with public transport, so they are at the cornerstone of building an air quality plan. Their efforts to reduce vehicle emissions can have a real effect on improving air quality.

Secondly, county councils have strategic functions. It would be peculiar if air quality were confined to district boundaries. Let me give an example from my own constituency. The Nottingham conurbation is surrounded by a number of district councils. There is a strong case that the county should be involved in setting up an umbrella, as it were, so that the air quality of the whole conurbation could be measured and efforts made to improve it. Air quality is not confined just to district council boundaries.

I strongly argue that counties should be equal partners in the production of action plans. I know that county councils, especially the Association of County Councils, want to play a dynamic and strategic role. The Minister is well aware of some of the tensions in local government, and that is to put it mildly, but I want to stress that county councils believe that they have a strong case.

The problem is that the only recourse for county councils, if they do not agree with the district action plan, is to refer the matter up to the Secretary of State for the Environment. That is a bureaucratic and time-consuming initiative. A far better way of setting up a good action plan is to include in the Bill, as the amendments suggest, a way of making county councils partners alongside district councils.

I hope that the Minister will consider the amendments carefully and that he is minded to accept them. If he is not, I know that guidance will be issued on how air quality plans can be drawn together.

I hope that the Minister will consult county councils, to ensure that they feel that they are equal partners and I hope that he will ensure that they will be involved in the action plans. It is important that we make progress. This is an important issue and I hope that the important functions of county councils will be taken into consideration.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 10:15 pm, 28th June 1995

I am old enough to remember the tensions between what is now a unitary authority and the previous Greater London council, so I appreciate the concerns. However, we are aware of the excellent work carried out by many county councils. Kent is an example of a county that has done a great deal in the way of air quality management.

The provisions in clause 85 will ensure that that role is preserved and strengthened. We expect that county councils will be fully involved in all aspects of local air quality management. We have already said that we shall consult the local authorities on the implementation of our air quality strategy. If there is any need to clarify that further, we shall be able to do so within the context of future direction and guidance.

With great respect, I am sure that the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) will agree that the amendments serve only to confuse the important roles of both tiers of local authorities. We do not feel that it is enough to say that the local authorities should act jointly and then leave it to them to sort matters out. The Government amendments have sought to give a clearer legal framework to the important contribution that both district and county councils will make.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. It acknowledges the strategic role of county councils and the fact that they have an important role to play. I note that guidance is to be issued and I hope that the voice of the county councils is heard during discussions on that guidance. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.