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Air pollution contributes to thousands of deaths – a health crisis that needs action

Air pollution contributes to thousands of premature deaths every year, with particular problems for children, older residents and those with breathing problems such as asthma, writes Helen Hayes…

In the face of such a public health crisis, it is extraordinary that the Tory government has been taken to court and lost three times on its lack of action, and has preferred to spend public money appealing a court decision rather than putting in place a comprehensive plan to clean up our air.

The last Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, commissioned research on the scale of the air pollution problem, but refused to release the findings, or take any steps to address the issue. Shockingly the research highlighted both the dreadful impact of air pollution on our children and schools, but also how residents on the lowest incomes are hit hardest by air pollution.

Labour’s Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has made tackling air pollution a key priority, and is making real progress.

In April of this year the central congestion charge zone will also become an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) where older, more polluting vehicles will have to pay a daily charge to drive. The aim is to encourage the drivers of these vehicles, both commercial and personal, to switch to cleaner, less polluting models.  The ULEZ will be extended to the South Circular in October 2021, though I would prefer the boundary to be the M25 so that no part of my constituency is excluded.

Sadiq Khan recently announced an initiative to provide funding for small business owners to help upgrade their vehicles, and £42m for London’s black cab fleet to switch to electric vehicles, but we need a nationwide scrappage scheme. Last week Sadiq joined with Mayors and City Leaders from across the country to call for a £1.5billion package to roll out this approach across the country for personal and commercial vehicles, particularly focused on older diesel vehicles.

Older buses can be particularly polluting, so it is good to see Sadiq taking action to create clean bus corridors, major bus routes where all buses operating will be cleaner modern buses.

Local residents are taking action too.  Parents at Goose Green Primary School raised funds to install a green screen – a living wall of ivy which traps and absorbs particulates and reduces air pollution by 30%.  Bessemer Grange is the first school in the borough to introduce a ‘school street’, where the road leading up to the school is closed to traffic at school drop off and pick up times to reduce pollution and make the walk to school safer.  It is great to see Southwark Council supporting the roll out of both green screens and school streets.

Our Labour Mayor, Labour Council and local residents are all doing everything they can to provide leadership on this issue and tackle air pollution, but we need a comprehensive response from the government, including a national scrappage scheme for more polluting vehicles, action on polluting industries, clearer regulation on the use of wood burning stoves and investment in public transport including rail electrification.  This public health crisis needs action now.


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