Cambridge is choking, we need action on air pollution now

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.

You can read their plans here (

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.



Nurses are using food banks and the reasons aren’t complex

Theresa May insisted there are ‘many complex reasons’ why people use foodbanks, when she was challenged over the numbers of nurses turning to them, on the Andrew Marr show this Sunday.

Let me, as a nurse, and a health service shop steward, answer this question for her.

Since 2010, to pay the costs of an economic crisis caused by a lack of regulation and mismanagement of the economy and financial sector, May’s party have pursued policies to shrink the public sector and save the government money.

Hospitals, care homes, libraries, schools have all borne the cost of these policies, along with those who work in them.

In the health service it’s meant seven years of ‘pay restraint’.

Pay restraint is code for pay cuts.

Nurses and midwives have seen their pay cut by 14%, according to the Royal College of Nurses, and doctors and health visitors by up to 12%.

In Cambridge, an area where house prices grew by nearly 50% between 2010 and 2015, it’s meant wage growth lagging a long way behind the increase in the cost of living.

We face a staffing crisis in our NHS services and simply will not be able to run them if the staff they depend on cannot afford to live here.

And though the debate often focuses on nurses, we must not forget those on the lower bands of the NHS, carers, porters, cleaners, catering staff, who face the same pay cuts on even lower incomes. The NHS cannot run without them.

I have walked around Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie many times lately, talking to staff about the latest below inflation pay offer of 1%.

I hear anger and frustration from nurses, carers and other NHS staff, but mainly sadness. Many are worried about how to feed their children and keep their homes warm.

These are the people caring for you when you have an accident or unexpected illness. The people, stressed and worried, who are trying to cover the gaps that are opening up as our overstretched and understaffed services continue under huge pressure. They need help.

Nurses are going to foodbanks because the government has chosen to impoverish them.

It’s not complex, it’s very simple.

It’s time for the University to get with the times. My take on divestment.

Yesterday big crowds of students, young people and local residents gathered in central Cambridge to continue their protests calling on the University of Cambridge to divest their money from investments in fossil fuels.

I was very glad to have the opportunity to address the rally. Our candidate for the county council in Market Ward, and the Dean of Emmanuel College, Jeremy Caddick, has been one of the leading voices in the campaign calling for divestment.

Hear my speech here;



Thankyou to Antony Carpen for filming!

The climate must not be forgotten this June

At the Paris Climate talks in 2015, agreement was reached to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

The agreement is a potential lifeline for many of the poorest people around the world. The poorest 2 billion people have caused less than 10% of historic greenhouse gas emissions, yet are most at risk from man made climate change.

Global warming of 1.5 degrees will still have a damaging effect on the planet and all who live here. It will result in an increase in the severity of extreme weather, a reduction in the availability of water, falls in the yields of staple crops and sea-level rises. Drought across parts of Africa is currently putting 6 million lives at risk in Somalia alone. Some estimates suggest that 400,000 deaths per annum are the result of climate change.

At 2 degrees of warming, however, the risks increase dramatically and disproportionately. In areas such as North Africa and the Levant, water scarcity would severe. In tropical and coastal areas, ocean acidification and sea level rises already disrupt the livelihoods of entire regions and threaten widespread coastal flooding.

New analysis this week has revealed that in the next four years, without serious change, we will burn enough carbon to make limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees impossible.

The announcement of a general election here, whilst a climate change denier sits in the White House, must focus minds. By the time our next Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be, calls the next election (assuming no more surprises!), we will have blown our chance to prevent this disaster, unless they have enacted serious and urgent change.

There are reasons to hope. The costs of renewable energy and cleaner technologies are dropping quickly. Last Friday the UK electricity grid ran entirely without coal for the first time since the industrial revolution. Various cities around Europe and the world have set ambitious goals for becoming ‘zero-carbon’ in the coming years.

But we must be realistic. Making this change requires serious decisions and bravery, of the type establishment politicians have not yet shown themselves capable of.
Ending further fossil fuel exploration. Stopping fracking. Making big changes to our homes, our workplaces and our transport system.

Developed countries such as ourselves must lead. And forward thinking cities such as Cambridge must drive change. Local institutions, such as the University, must immediately lead by divesting their money from fossil fuel companies.

Civic society in Cambridge must join our call for Cambridge to aim to be the country’s first ‘zero carbon’ society.

Don’t let climate change be forgotten this June.