We can’t afford another five years of Tory inaction on air pollution

A Labour government would deliver a new Clean Air Act


The facts are clear on air pollution: our air is toxic.

It’s linked to 40,000 premature deaths each year. Nearly 60 per cent of the population is exposed to illegal levels of air pollution, and it is children and babies who are most at risk from the associated health impacts – with hundreds of schools and nurseries close to the most polluting roads.

From Southend to Leamington Spa, Glasgow to Scunthorpe, air pollution is a national public health emergency. And it is an issue that SERA, Labour’s environmental campaign, has been working on for a very long time. Earlier this year we launched the Breath of Fresh Air campaign, calling for the government to act strongly with a new Clean Air Act and whether we are talking to MPs, councillors, community groups or our members, it is clear that this is an issue that people are deeply worried about

And yet, even as the evidence grows each day, and more voices call for urgent action — from the Royal College of GPs to the British Lung Foundation — the Government has done nothing.  Theresa May has repeatedly, and consistently, failed to intervene and it has been left to Labour politicians, including Sadiq Khan, and external groups to hold her to account.

As the ClientEarth court case proved, government inaction is not only immoral, but also illegal, with even the EU threatening to take the UK to court. But even after being ordered to produce a new plan by the Supreme Court – the Government are trying to hide behind excuses to delay action further.

Purdah — the reason the government is giving for their latest inaction — is not an excuse.  

It kicked in just three days before the plan legally had to be published, so surely if the government had any intention of meeting the deadline, bringing forward the launch by a few days would have made no difference? This plan was ordered five months ago, and while the general election was a surprise, the local elections — and their purdah period — are not. Even so, the Purdah guidelines specifically contain an exemption for essential consultations, including safeguarding public health. Not acting now is either sheer incompetency or apathy.

While the Tories do nothing, Labour have promised immediate action to safeguard public health. As SERA has long campaigned for, a Labour government would, within just 30 days of office, introduce a new Clean Air Act — matching the commitment shown  in the 1950s when tackling the country’s deadly smog.

As well as giving councils the powers to establish smoke control zones, the original Clean Air Act also championed firm action, including offering grants, so that householders could convert their coal-burning fires to smokeless fuel. Labour’s Clean Air Act could, via fair diesel scrappage scheme and incentives for alternatives, tackle our toxic air without punishing the public.

A national act, rather than piecemeal intervention could also set a clear plan for the transition to a cleaner, more efficient transport system, by providing funding for local authorities, clear infrastructure targets for the likes of electric vehicles and better integrated public transport. With a vision of transport fit for the 21st century, it could not only address an urgent crisis, but set out a roadmap for something better.

From Sadiq Khan’s work in London, to ambitious plans from Labour councils across the UK, Labour in power is already leading on air quality. A Labour government — with this commitment to a new Clean Air Act — would add weight to these actions, tackle the issues head on and help us save lives and improve health across the UK.

We simply can’t afford another five years of delays.

Adam Dyster is national organiser for SERA, Labour’s Environment Campaign

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10 Responses to “We can’t afford another five years of Tory inaction on air pollution”

  1. gwyneth stringer

    We need a better bus service using clean/buses which will help to reduce the use of cars.


  2. patrick newman

    A scrappage scheme will not deal with the short term problem and will favour those on middle and high income. People forget a new car comes with a hefty built in pollution record from its manufacture and it could be a year or two to get the environmental payback. In the short term radical measures are needed such as licensing access to dense conurbations, outright bans at certain times, a nation based scheme modelled on Khan’s London proposals, retro fit cleaner burn devices, dillution of diesel fuel like adding petrol or other hydrocarbons, differential pricing of diesel against petrol but bearing in mind the CO2 issue that got us here. Labour should be promoting a massive push to public transport (clean of course). Anyone for trolley buses?

  3. Craig Mackay

    One of the big problems about pollution is that we get used to what we are used to. I live in Cambridge which used to have one of the highest pollution levels in the country. This was fixed by moving the pollution monitor out of centre to somewhere with sweeter air. Nobody thinks of Cambridge as being badly polluted but it is downwind from London. Today we have a strong northerly wind and it is substantially sweeter and fresher not just because it is colder. As someone brought up in Scotland this is the air I was brought up with which one could decently breathe and not worry about. Atmospheric pollution affects us all and a day like this should make us all realise what a difference a bit of fresh air makes. We certainly cannot afford another five years of delays.

  4. m magee

    Diesel particulate (PM’s) and NOX pollution are a serious issue that is long overdue for an updated Clean Air Act but, as was pointed out by leading research experts, during the heating season the fashion of using wood burners in urban areas has become a countrywide problem contributing at times an equal if not greater contributor to PM2.5 pollution than diesel pollution. The current Clean Air Act does not offer any real or substantive protection for neighbours from wood smoke (proven carcinogen). Building and Planning regulations for wood burners only offer any substantive protection to their owners. Neighbours are not protected and Councils won’t act to protect neighbours who are regularly forced to endure smoke coming into their homes as indicated in the following Times Article http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/only-one-person-is-prosecuted-in-crackdown-on-chimney-pollution-fw56bzhhr

  5. Alma

    Why are you thinking about bus services? Did you noticed that trams and trolleybus are not polluting the air! And inactivity can end when someone will ask for results. Since no one is asking the right questions the inaction is still in place.

  6. Craig Mackay

    We will not get people out of their polluting cars unless they are forced to use non-polluting vehicles. It’s all very well going on about cycling (provided you are not elderly, not disabled, not pregnant, don’t have small children, and don’t need to transport shopping or other goods) or bus services even if they are pollution free (they go from somewhere you’re not to somewhere you don’t want to go at a time that is not convenient). They just don’t cut the mustard. We need to encourage 100% electric vehicles and particularly small vehicles. Eventually only small vehicles should be allowed into city centres in order to cut congestion. Very often the biggest vehicles on the road are the buses. That is certainly true in Cambridge where they struggle in narrow streets often with a tiny number of passengers. Until councils take over running bus services in small low-pollution vehicles we haven’t a chance and even then only until we can get decent small commuter vehicles.

  7. LordBlagger

    Very simple. Ban diesel buses now. Sack the bus drivers.

  8. Carey

    Absolutely right about consistently ignoring the dangerous levels of air polution, including in some of the comments and ideas people have for resolving it. Unfortunately the EU wont be able to take us to court after Brexit we will have no saviour there. We have also now to deal with the Gvt pushing for a third runway at Heathrow – more pollution of both air and noise! I despise the car lobby, and wish we were mor like Copenhagen where 56% ride bikes every day and 14% drive cars http://www.copenhagenize.com/2016/11/the-car-empire-strikes-back-complete.html I have to say something about how many cyclists abuse safety on the roads – and I’m speaking as a pedestrian and regular bus user – I have never owned a car or considered getting a licence – its all far too expensive and pointless and frustrating to be sitting in traffic endlessly. Living in London we’ve seen a huge increase in cycling – a lot of that because public transport is so expensive and the tubes and trains are horrendous and dangerously overcrowded during the peak periods. How many people travelling from outside London into work in London ever get a seat for the huge price they pay to train companies and to the tube company. Even buses are expensive! But I have to say that it feels like cyclists have been thrown on to the roads without needing to learn and adhere to road safety rules. Mostly younger men in full lycra and their racer bikes get on my nerves! Pedestrians now have to deal with dangerous car drivers, van drivers and bullish big lorry drivers AND dangerous cyclists! The amount of times I’ve had to wait on a pedestrian crossing for cyclist that is not stopping at a red light for traffic and green light for pedestrians is countless. I have been almost run down on many occasions – by bikes! The amount of times they break speed limits – dangerous for all other road users particularly in congested areas. I just wish they would obey the rules! You cant even walk safely through parks and things like canal paths without risking being mown down! I would be a natural bike user if it were safer on the roads (even now as 60+ female) As cities like Copenhagen have realised when you get women of all ages including Grandmothers taking kids to school by bike that’s when you will have won the day. Apologies I know its off topic re our appalling air pollution – and my local high street is one of the most heavily polluted in London and breaks the rules by massive amounts every day, my partner has lung disease – and its all a mess, everyone needs to be more giving less selfish. I wouldn’t be a bus driver for anything on earth in big cities like London! Contrary to the comment above, I find it perfectly easy to get from one destination to the other by bus in London, but sitting in car traffic on a bus is not fun. Air pollution control is one of many things we cant wait 5 yrs for. But thanks to many in the media it looks as if we will have to – the so called opinion makers are hugely helping to whip up a Tory landslide not by analysing and objective reporting – just lets have ago at Jeremy Corbyn…again.

  9. Michael Ryan

    Sadiq Khan should look more closely at my letter to him dated 8 December 2016, which started as follows:

    “Dear Mr Khan,
    Air pollution in London – other than from traffic

    I’ve written several times to the Greater London Council about the incinerator issue and the only useful outcome was receipt of the electoral ward map for all of Greater London that Ken Livingstone’s office kindly sent me following my FoI request.

    The eleven-page May 2010 report about infant mortality rates that followed these questions should have had all incinerators marked on the ward map on page 8.

    Question No: 41 / 2010
    Darren Johnson
    A constituent asks, is there any evidence to suggest that the SELCHP and Kings College Hospital incinerators which flank Southwark contributed to the Borough having the highest infant mortality rate in London in 2008?

    Infant morality rates
    Question No: 42 / 2010
    Darren Johnson
    Will you publish electoral ward-level data and a map showing the 2002-2008 infant mortality rates in London?


  10. David Carr

    Labour’s commitment to build a million new homes is tremendous. We need to make Eco Housing for All central to our commitments as well. Equipping all homes with solar panels and other green technologies could play a key role in tackling climate change, pollution, fuel poverty and help stimulate a green industrial revolution. We all want economic growth but unregulated growth will make climate change and pollution catastrophic. Read more here: https://swanleydistrictlabourparty.org/eco-council-housing-program/

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