Smoke Control Areas in MK

Background to smoke control legislation

The Great London Smog

The first Clean Air Act was introduced in 1956 as a response to the great smogs of the 1950’s, which culminated in the of February 1952. These smogs were caused by smoke from coal burning, by industry but mainly from domestic fireplaces, mixing with natural fog caused by a temperature inversion. Thus the smog contained large amounts of soot and sticky tar particles together with gaseous sulphur dioxide. The great London Smog lasted for five days and was responsible for thousands of premature deaths.

The Clean Air Acts

The Clean Air Acts, now consolidated in the , gave local authorities powers to improve air quality by controlling the emission of dark smoke, grit, dust and fumes from industrial premises and to establish Smoke Control Areas where the emission of smoke from domestic properties was banned. However, because the conversion of coal-burning appliances was phased-in over time, smogs continued to be a problem for some years after the 1956 act was passed, but the like of the Great Smog was never seen again.

Reduction in Smoke and Sulphur dioxide

It is undoubtedly true that because of the implementation of smoke control areas, together with the increased popularity of natural gas and changes in the industrial and economic structure of the UK, there has been a tremendous reduction in concentrations of smoke and associated levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2) between the 1950s and the present day. The ‘pea-souper’ smogs of the 1950’s and 60’s now exist only in the memories of those who lived through them and in .

Present day air pollution

However, before we become too complacent we need to look at the amount of pollution in present day air. It may not be so visible as the soot and tar of the 1950’s but arguably, particularly in our major cities; our air is just as polluted now as it was then. However, the major source of air pollution is no longer from chimneys, rather it is from vehicle exhaust pipes. The main air pollutants are now nitrogen oxides, carbon oxides, organic carbon compounds, fine particles and secondary ozone. We may not be able to see them but they are just as toxic as the pollution of old, being responsible for such things as eye irritation, asthma and bronchial complaints.

Link for more information on air quality in the UK

Air quality in Milton Keynes

We are fortunate in Milton Keynes that our air quality is better than in other large urban areas in the UK. This is due to a variety of factors, including the high proportion of modern housing in Milton Keynes; the relative lack of industrial processes with emissions to air; the grid road system which helps to spread out traffic and the wide verges along our grid roads (the level of traffic induced air pollution decreases with distance from the road).

Information on Air Quality in Milton Keynes

For more information contact The Environment Team.

Last Updated: 30 November 2017