As local and mayoral elections flood in from around the country, the Government has tried to sneak out their weak plans for dealing with the country’s problem with air pollution.
As a country we have failed to meet targets set by the EU on harmful NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) emissions for years.
People, and particularly children, who suffer with respiratory conditions face a poorer quality of life as a result.
It’s estimated that around 50,000 annual deaths nationwide are attributable to air pollution, 257 a year in Cambridgeshire. Parts of Cambridge City are air pollution hotspots and there is a resulting costly effect for health and care services.
It’s taken legal action by environmental campaigners to force the Government to finally release their plans to deal with the problem.
The plans place a lot of responsibility with local authorities, offering them a framework with which they can design and implement ‘Clean Air Zones’. Local authorities must exhaust ‘non-charging’ options for reducing emissions in these zones before they are able to implement charging for high polluting vehicles, however, a policy which experts believe will delay effective action.
Whilst there are proposed incentives to increase the rolling out of electric taxis, there are no specific plans to introduce a scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles, a proposal the CEO of Client Earth has described as ‘crucial’ to accelerating the transition to cleaner transport.
In Cambridge there are welcome moves from the City Deal and City Council to explore a Clean Air Zone.
Since a great amount of pollution in the central areas of the city comes from buses, I also sincerely hope the new mayor explores the possibility of using bus franchising powers to require bus operators to use low emissions and electric buses in urban areas, a step that could greatly improve air quality.
I will personally request they take this option.
But Cambridge badly needs leadership from central government on this issue, leadership we are not getting with these plans.
Much greater funding is needed nationally to improve funding for active transport infrastructure, such as protected cycleways. But funding for the Government’s new cycling strategy is only a tiny fraction of what’s proposed to be spent on new roads.
In the USA companies which have cheated emissions tests have been forced to pay a huge settlement, Green MPs here will be brave enough to demand the same and use the money to invest in better public transport.
An increase in the amount of vehicle excise duty (VED) charged on new diesel vehicles could raise £500m to pay for a targeted scrappage scheme to take the most polluting cars and vans off our roads.
And crucially, the cost of using public transport has soared in recent decades, whilst driving has become cheaper. If we are serious about protecting people’s health, and meeting our targets on climate change, we need to begin reversing that trend.
That means bringing our railways back into public hands, lowering fares, and allowing and funding local authorities to run affordable and effective bus systems.
We can, and must, take this action.
Helping people use public transport is better for our air, encouraging them to cycle or walk is good for their health, lowering emissions is good for our planet. Everyone will benefit.
But it will require more Green representatives in Westminster. This trend has taken continued with governments led by all of the establishment parties. If we want change, we need to vote for it.