chapter  9
23 Pages

Cleansing the air and promoting health: The politics of pollution in postwar Britain


Introduction In April 1956, Anthony Eden's Conservative government successfully steered the Clean Air Bill through its third reading in the Commons. The resultant Clean Air Act, which received the Royal Assent in July that year, introduced a number of measures designed to substantially reduce urban air pollution in Britain: the Act encouraged the creation of 'smoke control areas' by local authorities, established the Clean Air Council responsible for monitoring and regulating levels of air pollution, and created a tariff of financial penalties for non-compliance with local and national standards of air purity.1 Although not the first legislation to tackle the growing problems of urban air pollution, the 1956 Act contained two novel features: first, it aimed to control domestic, as well as industrial, smoke production; and, second, the Act enforced compliance with predetermined standards of air quality and smoke production rather than relying on a plaintiff to demonstrate that smoke was causing a nuisance, as previous legislation had done. As a result, the 1956 Clean Air Act constituted a significant milestone in the evolution of modern clean air and environmental policies in Britain.