Environment Bill

Written evidence submitted by London Councils (EB20)

London Councils

London Councils represents London’s 32 borough councils and the City of London. It is a cross-party organisation that works on behalf of all its member authorities regardless of political persuasion.

Air Quality


The Government should adopt the World Health Organisation target for PM2.5 as a legal limit to be met no later than 2030 and introduced as soon as is possible.

The Government should introduce additional regulatory powers for local authorities to control emissions from appliances, such as gas and solid fuel boilers, combined heat and power plants, construction machinery and standby diesel generators.

Government should look to review and align the tax system, such as fuel duty and other relevant taxes, with air quality and other environmental priorities.

Air pollution is a significant health, economic and environmental problem for the UK generally and in London specifically that requires concerted efforts from a variety of stakeholders to address effectively. In London alone, air pollution contributes to in excess of 9,400 premature deaths every year, costs the health system up to £3.7 billion per year and damages building and other infrastructure and biodiversity through the formation of pollutants into acid rain.

The Environment Bill 2019-20 outlines the commitment to set legally binding targets for PM2.5. However, the bill states that the target must be set no later than 31 October 2022. Based on the latest evidence, PM2.5 is the most harmful form of pollution to human health, and everything possible should be done to reach the World Health Organisation 2030 guideline in the UK. We do not have time for further, unnecessary delays. This target should be adopted now and supported with additional powers and resources for local authorities to tackle this problem.

Combustion plants, including boilers, generators, combined heat and power plants and Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM), are a significant contributor to London’s air pollution, but London’s local government lack sufficient powers to act on non-transport sources that make significant contribution to PM2.5 pollution. The latest estimates show that NRMM used on construction sites alone is responsible for 7% of NOx emissions, 14% for PM2.5 and 8% of PM10 emissions across London, whilst burning solid fuels in homes contributes 38% to national PM emissions [1] . It is therefore disappointing that the government’s bill does not include new policies, and the devolution of powers, to reduce emissions from these.

The bill will provide local authorities with the ability to issue fines up to a maximum of £300 for smoke being emitted from a chimney in smoke control zones. It also introduces fines for retailers who sell controlled solid fuel to buildings where a smoke order applies. These changes are welcome, but to be effective they must be accompanied by reassurances that all new powers and responsibilities will be matched with proper resourcing and funding.


The Committee should support Amendment 23, in the name of Neil Parish, to set parameters on the face of the Bill to ensure that the PM2.5 target will be at least as strict as the 2005 WHO guidelines, with an attainment deadline of 2030 at the latest.

The Committee should support Amendment 24, in the name of Neil Parish, which aims to bring forward the deadline for laying regulations setting the PM2.5 target to December 2020

The Committee should support Amendment 26, in the name of Neil Parish, which is intended to allow any new targets to reflect updated WHO guidelines.

The Committee should support Amendment 27, in the name of Neil Parish, which is intended to trigger an early review of the PM2.5 target, and other air quality targets, within 6 months of the publication of the updated WHO guidelines.

Office of Environmental Protection (OEP)


The Office of Environmental Protection should be more independent of Government. The choice of Chair and budget should not be the responsibility of DEFRA, but of Parliament.

The Office of Environmental Protection should have the ability to levy fines against companies or Government, as the European Commission can currently does.

There is a well evidenced and supported need for a powerful new independent regulator that will scrutinise government actions and hold it to account to ensure the environment is at the heart of decision making. The creation of the OEP is therefore a positive step in providing more independent oversight on environmental matters. However, the limitations to its powers and its lack of independence represent a missed opportunity.

It has been confirmed that the OEP will not have the power to levy fines against public authorities, a power the European Commission, which currently undertakes this function, has. We should be strengthening our environmental protections, not weakening them.

The OEP’s chair and non-executive members will be selected by the Secretary of State, who will also set its budget. Independence of government will be key to ensure the OEP can effectively and seriously hold public bodies to account. The choice of Chair and budget should be made by Parliament.

The OEP will have nominal powers over greenhouse gas emission reduction, which is to be welcomed. However, we believe it should go further and have climate change/net zero carbon targets included as a priority area given that the Committee on Climate Change does not have any enforcement powers.

Finally, there are still loopholes which could allow the government to ignore the OEP’s principles. For example, Ministers will not need to consider the five principles for any tax and/or spending decisions. This is a serious missed opportunity.


The Committee should support Amendment 99, in the name of Dr Alan Whitehead, to clarify international environmental law must be monitored and reported on by the OEP

The Committee should support Amendment 101, in the name of Dr Alan Whitehead, to ensure that when the OEP carries out an investigation it is made public.

March 2020


Prepared 17th March 2020