Car pollution curbs cut back

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Ministers are stopping councils cracking down on polluting cars – despite growing evidence that their fumes cause asthma in children. They are prohibiting more than three-quarters of England's local authorities from taking powers to stop and fine vehicles with particularly dangerous emissions. Even those allowed to do so will be restricted to exercising these powers in limited areas.

Ministers are stopping councils cracking down on polluting cars – despite growing evidence that their fumes cause asthma in children. They are prohibiting more than three-quarters of England's local authorities from taking powers to stop and fine vehicles with particularly dangerous emissions. Even those allowed to do so will be restricted to exercising these powers in limited areas.

This action flies in the face of efforts by the Environment, Health and Education ministries to adopt new measures to combat asthma, as a result of The Independent on Sunday campaign. It also contrasts sharply with the attitude of the devolved Scottish administration, which is allowing all its councils to carry out the roadside pollution checks.

Councils and environmental campaigners are furious at the restrictions, which will further strengthen the reputation of the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions as a ministry that actively opposes environmental concerns.

The powers were due to be applied after pilot schemes in seven local-authority areas from Westminster to Middlesbrough. The councils found that they had a major effect in cleaning the air, by enabling them to clamp down on the badly maintained 10 per cent or so of vehicles responsible for about half of all exhaust pollution.

But when the new powers were introduced this month, Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for the Environment, decided that they could only be used in so-called air quality management areas. Only 85 of England's local authorities have established these areas, less than a quarter of the total – and they can be confined to just one or two roads.

The department said the restriction was introduced to concentrate on the most polluted areas of the country. In practice, environmentalists and councils point out, this approach is deeply flawed: ozone, the pollutant that has been shown to cause asthma, drifts all over the land on the winds, so where it is emitted is irrelevant.

The National Society for Clean Air called Mr Byers's decision "stupid", and Tony Bosworth, a pollution campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "Byers is condemning even more children to suffer from asthma."

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