Britain's industrialization and urbanization continue at a rapid pace. The burning of coal in factories and heavy industrial plants, as well as in people's homes, where it is the main source of heating, leads to a dramatic increase in air-pollutant emissions. This pollution results in the persistent smogs, widely known as "pea soupers," that are common in many of Britain's inner cities.
Between 1926 and 1928, Councils for the Preservation of Rural England, Scotland, and Wales are established, doing much to focus attention on the increasing pressures and rapid changes affecting Britain's countryside. There is growing public recognition of the need to conserve areas of national importance.
The first Town and Country Planning Act enables local authorities to plan the use of the countryside and prevent undesirable development, but it does not allow them to specify areas for conservation. In 1935 a Committee on National Parks is created, and in 1938 the Green Belt designation is established, aiming to keep rural land around big cities free of development and urban encroachment.
During World War II, the Scott Committee drafts a report on Land Utilization in Rural Areas that backs the need for a network of nature reserves and national parks for the benefit of the public. In 1949 the report becomes law with the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which sets up several parks, among them the Peak District, Lake District, Snowdonia, and Dartmoor.
Despite improvements in air quality, one of Britain's worst smogs hits London in 1952. It lasts five days and is blamed for 4,000 deaths. In 1956 the government passes the Clean Air Act. It sets out the use of cleaner fuel and controls on domestic smoke pollution.
A fire at Britain's Windscale nuclear complex, since renamed Sellafield, destroys the core of a plutonium-producing reactor, sending clouds of radioactive material into the atmosphere. An official report admits the leaked radiation may lead to dozens of cancer deaths.
After a series of town development acts, all parts of Britain are now under uniform planning guidelines. Undesirable planning applications can be rejected, but the presumption remains heavily in favor of development and growth. Environmental considerations are significant only in areas designated Green Belt, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Beauty, or Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
The collapse of an unstable coal spoil heap at Aberfan in South Wales results in a human tragedy that leads to the questioning of the National Coal Board's ability to handle such crises. The event has wide environmental impact and leads to the rehabilitation of disused industrial and mining landscapes.
The period of the late '60s and early '70s sees an upsurge in Britain's environmental movement. The public shows increasing concern at the sacrifice of the environment in the name of development. They challenge the long-held primacy of economic growth, employment, and profit over environmental considerations.
Following Britain's entry into the European Economic Community (EEC), now the European Union (EU), Britain must comply with European legislation aimed at controlling environmental degradation and the amount of pollution emitted by sources such as transport and industry.
In response to European legislation, Britain passes the 1990 Environmental Protection Act and subsequent 1995 Environment Act. These bring smaller emission sources under air-pollution control by local authorities and provide a new statutory framework for air-quality management. The most polluting industrial processes become subject to a system of Integrated Pollution Control.
Britain signs the Kyoto international agreement on the reduction of the release of harmful gases. In the same year, Britain's National Air-Quality Strategy is published, setting down air-quality standards and targets to be achieved in the country by 2005.
The government's plan to meet projected demand for 4.4 million extra homes in England by 2016 leads to concern over the balance between development and conservation. Environmental laws of the '90s pay off when Britain's rivers are found to be at the cleanest levels ever recorded. London introduces a steep "congestion charge," monitored and levied electronically, on cars entering the city's center.
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