Environment Secretary Michael Gove has accused Birmingham City Council of dragging its feet over the choking air pollution which is contributing to 900 premature deaths a year.
The Conservative Cabinet minister was defending accusations that the Government is not doing enough to help cities deal with poor air quality and the health impacts.
The Government has been taken to court and lost three times over its failure to deal with air quality.
But Mr Gove said that Labour-run Birmingham has been slow to respond to the public health crisis.
The council’s detailed plans for a clean air zone were withdrawn by the council earlier this year and not expected to be unveiled until after the local elections.
He described Birmingham as ‘reluctant to engage’ on the issue.
He said: “There are some local authorities across the country who have accepted their responsibilities and said they want to play a positive and proactive part in helping to deal with this problem.
“But it’s been striking that the minister for air quality and the environment Therese Coffey has had to rattle the cage in order to try to get Birmingham to realise that they have a specific responsibility.”
He denied that that the Government is passing buck.
“Government is providing money, hundreds of millions of pounds, and we’re prepared to work with local authorities to design exactly the clean air zone scheme that they want. But Birmingham have been dragging their feet.”
Parties in Birmingham are divided over the case for a city centre congestion charge or pollution tax, but Mr Gove said that an instruction from Whitehall was not the solution. Different part of the country need different solutions adding that in London a congestion charge is sensible, but it might not be in other cities.
“Whether or not you should have charging in any other local area should be for the local authority to determine.”
He said that there are a range of options open to cities - retro-fitting vehicles, engineering solutions and that money is there to fund them.
And he praised Birmingham Conservatives for coming up with ‘imaginative ideas’ such as the green walls on the Aston Expressway to absorb some pollution, more use of canals for non perishable freight and consolidation warehouses to cut the number of deliveries into the centre.
He added: “It is striking that the (Labour) council hasn’t been clear about which way it wants to go and has in effect been washing its hands of it. What we’ve experienced from Birmingham has been a lack of energy.”
But Labour hit back - pointing out that the environmental charity Client Earth had to take the Government to court to get them to act on air quality.
Cabinet member responsible for air quality Lisa Trickett said: "This Government has been taken to court, not once, not twice but three times over this. It is Mr Gove who has been dragging his feet.
"Instead of taking action in 2010 and planning ahead, we now have to deal with it in the next 18 months because of this."
Cllr Trickett said they are engaged and she has met ministers and Government officials, as well as the freight industry and city centre businesses to discuss the issue. The council is investigating health and economic evidence before presenting its plans next month.
"I am not going to put a radical set of policies before the people and businesses of Birmingham without clear evidence."
She added that the Government had provided £700,000 for a clean air zone - but need millions more for initiatives which could make an impact like diesel scrappage schemes and public transport discounts.