Clean Air Act 1956
The Clean Air Act 1956 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed in response to London's Great Smog of 1952. It was in effect until 1964, and sponsored by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in England and the Department of Health for Scotland.
The Act introduced a number of measures to reduce air pollution, especially by introducing 'smoke control areas' in some towns and cities in which only smokeless fuels could be burnt. By shifting homes' sources of heat towards cleaner coals, electricity, and gas, it reduced the amount of smoke pollution and sulphur dioxide from household fires. Reinforcing these changes, the Act also included measures to relocate power stations away from cities, and for the height of some chimneys to be increased.
The Act was an important milestone in the development of a legal framework to protect the environment.
London had long been noted for its fog, but when the "Great Smog" fell over the city in December 1952 the effects were unprecedented: 4,000 people are thought to have died in the immediate aftermath, triggering great public concern. A further 8,000 died in following weeks and months, with fog so thick it stopped trains, cars, and public events.
It quickly became clear that pollution had become a real and deadly problem, and the smog's terrible effects may have helped inspire the modern environmental movement. Despite this, however, and data from the Ministry of Health indicative of substantially elevated death rates in London, the Government initially resisted pressure to act, and was keen to downplay the scale of the problem due to economic pressures. It took the recommendations of the Select Committee on Air Pollution and moves by backbench MPs to pass a Private Members Bill on domestic coal burning to persuade the Government to support a change in the law.
The Clean Air Act built on earlier efforts to regulate pollutants, particularly in London, where air quality had long been poor. Indeed, London had seen a succession of acts and rules over the centuries to improve its air—most recently the Smoke Nuisance Abatement (Metropolis) Acts 1853 and 1856 and the Public Health (London) Act 1891. However, despite the link between air pollution and health being well understood by the late 19th century, such efforts had not proved to be effective public health measures.
The 1952 smog gave a momentum for tougher action: as well as this Clean Air Act, its effects also led to the introduction of the City of London (Various Powers) Act of 1954, and influenced the Clean Air Act 1968. And by prohibiting what had been the hitherto widely accepted actions of private households, the Clean Air Act 1956 had important implications for the debate about public regulation, public health, and the sphere of legitimate Government intervention.
- Clean Air Act (disambiguation)
- Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation (FIDO) – an invention later made superfluous because of the 1956 Clean Air Act
- "The Great Smog of 1952". The Met Office. Retrieved 2013-3-3.
- 2. BBC News. 2002. Historic smog death toll rises. [Online] (updated: 5 December 2002 12.22 GMT) Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2545747.stm [Accessed 14 November 2009]
- "50 Years On: The struggle for air quality in London since the great smog of December 1952". Greater London Authority. 2002-12. Retrieved 2009-04-04. [dead link]
- "50 years after the great smog, a new killer arises". The Guardian. 2002-11-30. Retrieved 2009-04-04.
- Peter Brimblecombe. "Fifty Years on from the Clean Air Act". School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia.
- Smog in 1956 and the Clean Air Act at BBC On This Day
- Clean Air Act and air legislation at NetRegs.gov.uk
- Official text of the Clean Air Act 1956 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database