Reductions in road traffic, as envisaged in Cynog Dafis' Road Traffic Reduction (UK Targets) Bill - which will be debated by parliament later this month - will be necessary to ensure air quality standards are achieved throughout the UK as soon as possible. Road traffic is the principal cause of air pollution in towns and cities.
Targets in the government's national air quality strategy assume air quality standards will not be reached until 2005, and in many cases allow pollution levels to continue to exceed health standards even then. And European proposals for cleaner vehicles and fuels are not expected to ensure (in many cases weaker) European health standards are achieved until 2010.
Roger Higman of Friends of the Earth said: 'This report makes extremely alarming reading. Urgent action is needed to cut traffic levels if we are to stop thousands of people from dying early as a result of air pollution. The government must support Cynog Dafis' Road Traffic Reduction (UK Targets) Bill to ensure pollution levels are cut as quickly as possible.'
The Department of Health has published the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP)' report 'Quantification of the effects of air pollution on health in the United Kingdom'. This 'suggests that the deaths of between 12,000 and 24,000 vulnerable people may be brought forward and between 14,000 and 24,000 hospital admissions and readmissions may be associated with short term air pollution each year'.
Friends of the Earth had previously claimed that up to 11,000 people may die prematurely due to air pollution (Bullock S 1995 'Prescription for Change: health and the environment' Friends of the Earth). The Government's previous estimate was 'several thousands' (UK National Air Quality Strategy).
The RTRB - drafted by FOE, the Green party and Plaid Cymru, seeks to reduce road traffic by 10% by 2010 (based on 1990 levels). The Bill has been backed by over 400 MPs, though the Government has yet to give its support.