Concern about air pollution is rising.
Strong and immediate action is needed to address the biggest problem: road transport. Local authorities have a key role in protecting the health of their citizens, but need support and funding from the government.
The health effects of air pollution are truly shocking. The Royal College of Physicians estimate 40,000 early deaths a year are caused by our bad air, with effects including causing lung cancer, worsening cardiovascular disease as well as asthma, and children’s lungs not developing properly. And to make it worse these effects particularly hit the most vulnerable in our society – the young and elderly and those from poorer areas.
The government has been forced to re-do their figures more realistically which show that many areas would still have illegal levels of the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) for years to come without further action – yet the government’s draft plans to address this are not fit for purpose.
The government is required by the courts to bring levels of NO2 within legal limits in the shortest time possible. However, the measure the government has identified as being the most effective – ‘charging’ clean air zones (CAZ) – they are proposing not to implement straight away. Instead, the government are requiring local authorities to try other measures to cut air pollution before a charging CAZ, and the funding for it, can be applied for.
Charging CAZs should be in place by the end of 2018 – covering all areas which would otherwise still have illegal air in 2019 (this would include up to 58 local authorities, according to government modelling). Local authorities could in theory set up their own charging CAZ under existing powers, but these should rather be mandated and properly funded by the government.
While we wait for the government’s final air quality plan, there are other measures local authorities can get on with. Measures such as introducing different parking charges for more polluting vehicles, and changing their own fleet to be less polluting. They can also make it easier for people to choose to walk or cycle or through planning policy which puts amenities closer to where people live, and plan for better and more affordable public transport.
The government must also support people to transition towards cleaner vehicles, with a carefully-designed scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle exercise duty.
We deserve clean air everywhere. The government must do more to help local authorities address the air pollution crisis, so that our health is protected and all areas are attractive places to live, work and visit.
Jenny Bates, air pollution campaigner, Friends of the Earth
Measures to reduce air pollution already exist but councils need more help