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Understanding Urban Governance through Air Pollution Policy Instruments

Environmental Policy
Local Government
Policy Analysis
Public Administration
Public Policy
Peter Eckersley
Nottingham Trent University
Peter Eckersley
Nottingham Trent University
Oliver Harrison
Nottingham Trent University
Marianna Poberezhskaya
Nottingham Trent University

Air pollution causes over 400,000 premature deaths every year in Europe, predominantly in cities (EEA 2017). Many local governments have blended different types of policy instrument to try to address this public health crisis: regulatory (e.g. restricting diesel vehicle access), voluntary (through persuasion and engagement) and (re)distributive (investing in sustainable transport). Yet we do not know enough about why they have selected particular instruments – and this important, because studies suggest voluntary measures may be insufficient to address the problem effectively (Pascal et al. 2013).

The choice of policy instrument reveals a great deal about how governments seek to govern. Voluntary agreements suggest that the state does not wish to coerce societal actors unduly, regulatory instruments indicate that its favours hierarchical authority (Lascoumbes and LeGales 2007), and (re)distributive initiatives aim to satisfy or incentivise certain groups in the hope that this may change their behaviour (Lowi 1964). Tracking and comparing instruments across jurisdictions is also relatively straightforward (Jordan et al. 2005).

This paper draws on fieldwork in two English urban areas (the city of Nottingham and Westminster in central London) to examine how urban governance relationships along three dimensions shape the blend of policy instruments that governments select to combat air pollution. It will analyse these relationships along three dimensions: the internal political make-up of the local authority; the vertical multi-level governance structures within which it operates; and the horizontal nature of the local political economy, to illustrate the extent to which municipal actors can exercise agency in their policy choices.
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