Published: 08:29, 04 April 2014
Climate change secretary Ed Davey has said we will have to get used to more days where pollution levels present a risk to public health on a visit to Kent.
Mr Davey was in Maidstone yesterday and was taken to Upper Stone Street, where pollution levels are said to exceed EU safety recommendations.
Wheezing and using an inhaler, he struggled to breathe as pollution levels in parts of the county hit the maximum 10 on the government's scale.
Mr Davey also used his visit to express concerns about contentious house-building targets being proposed for Maidstone.
The Conservative-run council has set out a development plan stating there should be 19,500 new homes. Mr Davey said the figure was "far too many".
Asked whether Britain would have to get used to more days when pollution levels exceeded recommended limits, he said: "It is possible.
"What we are seeing is that a lot of carbon emissions are coming from the same sources; they are pollutants that really damage lungs, get into people's arteries and damage blood supplies. We really have to tackle these things and if we don't, clearly things are going to get worse."
However, Mr Davey ruled out more radical measures that have been adopted by some cities to curb pollution by restricting cars based on licence plates that mean they can only come in every other day.
"We have seen that in Paris and Singapore and I am not sure it has worked terribly well," he added. "We have seen reports of people having two number plates and change them from day to day – I want solutions that work. There are other good practices and imaginative schemes."
"We really have to tackle these things and if we don't, clearly things are going to get worse..." - climate change secretary Ed Davey
He added: "Most air pollutants now come from the transport sector. So one has to improve public transport and have tough new standards and regulations on new vehicles so they become ultra low on emissions.
"And local authorities have to try to plan their transport far more effectively."
On the issue of Maidstone's house-building plans, he said: "What is proposed is pretty huge. People need good homes to live in and homes of high environmental standards.
"But I am told that what is proposed is far, far too many.
"It is for local people to decide - it is not for government ministers to impose those targets. Maidstone needs to take those decisions itself. Clearly the idea of 19,500 homes does seem rather a lot.”
Pollution levels across southern Britain are expected to fall today after days of high readings.
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