Driving: Prescott pledges action on cleaner air

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Air pollution will be the Government's main target in its bid to clean up the environment during the UK's presidency of the European Union.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, pledged to help make Europe "greener" with action on climate change, reductions in acid rain, new policies to reduce filthy exhaust fumes from vans and heavy lorries, and more protection for threatened animals, birds and plant life.

Mr Prescott said traffic pollution must be curbed in order to meet the ambitious carbon dioxide reduction levels the Government has set itself. However, he dismissed reports that this would add another pounds 300 to the cost of a car.

Gavin Strang, the minister responsible for transport, said there was no question that the Government wanted better technology and for consumers to be more conscious of green issues when they bought cars.

The airline industry will also come under pressure from regulators who are concerned with the health of people living near airports caused by harmful NOx gases spewed from aircraft engines.

Mr Prescott told reporters at a London news conference: "The presidency is not something remote, happening in Europe. It's about the lives we lead, our jobs, tackling crime and improving the environment."

There was no secret, said Mr Prescott, about the "considerable public concern" in Britain and across Europe about poor air quality - but, he added, only Europe-wide measures could make any difference to improving the air we all breathe.

Although the proposals were generally welcomed, some campaigners said more could be done. Lynn Sloman, Assistant Director of Transport 2000, said: "They have said nothing about cutting the mammoth EU funded road- building programme."