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Passing on EU fines to councils unfair

Think tank argues the possibility that authorities could be forced to pay potential fines ‘would not be fair, reasonable or proportionate’

It ‘would not be fair, reasonable or proportionate’ for local authorities to have to pay the UK government’s potential EU fines for failing to meet air quality standards, according to a think tank representing 33 councils in London.

The UK government is currently facing legal action from the EU over levels of nitrogen dioxide in the UK, and it has written to councils in England to inform them that the Localism Act 2011 provides the government with the power to force local authorities to pay any possible resulting fines (see airqualitynews.com story).

Think tank London Councils represents 33 authorities in the city

Think tank London Councils represents 33 authorities in the city

However, in its submission of evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into UK air quality, which was published today (June 23), the London Councils cross-party think tank states that it continues to believe that it is unfair for one government minister to hold the power to apportion such fines.

The think tank explains that passing on fines to councils would be unfair because ‘at the time the Localism Act was being debated, the government was already exceeding air pollution targets and had less than a year to get an extension from the EU or face a potential fine of £300m which it ultimately failed to do’.

In addition, London Councils believes this would be ‘unreasonable’ because ‘the cause and impact of air pollution cannot be contained within administrative boundaries’.

Finally, the think tank cites government funding cuts to local authorities and organisations such as the Environment Agency and Transport for London, which ‘diminishes their capacity to tackle air quality in London’.

As such, it believes forcing councils to stump up the cash to pay any EU fines would be ‘disproportionate’.

Recommendations

Outlining its recommendations in the inquiry response, London Councils calls for the government to prioritise investment in air quality measures in core UK cities while working with councils to develop a ‘clear set of agreed priorities and targets’.

Furthermore, it calls for the government to ‘set out clearly’ the roles and responsibility for government departments, agencies, regional bodies and local authorities so that ‘duplication of effort is minimised’.

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