The World Health Organization has described air pollution as a “public health emergency” and there is clear evidence that poor air quality has serious environmental and health impacts. Air pollution is linked to cancer, asthma, strokes and heart disease and in the UK, contributes to the early deaths of up to 50,000 people a year.
I am extremely concerned about the fact that the UK has routinely exceeded the legal levels for pollution and I believe that the air pollution crisis is a national scandal, and that urgent action must be taken.
Following several court cases, on 26 July 2017, the Government finally published its final plan on air quality, which includes the introduction of new Clean Air Zones, a new £23 million fund for hydrogen vehicles and a £64 million fund to promote the uptake of electric taxis. The Government also plans to ban the sale of all new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, and has suggested that new pollution taxes could be levied on diesel drivers who use the most congested roads in major towns and cities from 2020.
After seven years of illegal air pollution, the Government has only acted after being dragged through the courts. I am disappointed, given the scale of the air pollution crisis that it is delaying further by planning to consult again on problems such as scrappage schemes. I am also concerned that the Government is attempting to push the problem onto local authorities.
We need the highest standards of pollution controls to protect public health and at the recent General Election I stood on a manifesto which committed to bring forward a new Clean Air Act to drive challenging emissions reduction targets. I would like to see a national framework for low emission zones and genuine action at international level to close loopholes in emissions testing. I also believe that we need to invest in greener, integrated public transport systems for the long term.
I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to address this public health emergency.