UK government failing to protect public health and show leadership on illegal pollution

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have told MPs today that the government is failing to protect the health of people across the UK by lacking leadership and political will over illegal air pollution.

Giving evidence to the Commons ‘super inquiry’ into air pollution – made up of four select committees – ClientEarth’s clean air lawyer Alan Andrews said the UK government had also left local authorities “high and dry” by failing to mandate a national network of clean air zones, which would keep the most polluting vehicles out of the most polluted town and cities.

He said: “Local authorities can’t solve all these problems themselves, there needs to be national leadership. The government’s new air quality plan doesn’t commit to doing very much at all. It’s really a plan for more plans.”

Mr Andrews outlined the grounds for ClientEarth’s third legal challenge to the UK Government, which has twice been ordered by the courts to deal with illegal pollution urgently. The 2017 air quality plan only focuses attention on 23 local authorities which are conducting feasibility studies, but fails to deal with Wales, or 45 English local authorities which breach legal limits for air pollution. It also fails to mandate  5 local authorities which had been ordered to introduce clean air zones in the previous plan, but are not under orders now.

Andrews said: “Everyone knows that charging clean air zones are the only way to solve the problem of illegal air pollution in our towns and cities and the government needs to mandate them and focus on giving people a helping hand in moving to cleaner forms of transport.”

He said the government had missed a “golden opportunity” in yesterday’s Budget to force the motor manufacturers to pay for a scrappage scheme, as Germany had done.

He also accused regulators and governments across Europe of “soft pedalling” against the car industry over emissions.

Children make their voices heard on air pollution at UK’s parliament

kids outside downing street

A group of 10-year old pupils, concerned about the effects of illegal pollution on more than 950 school playgrounds across the UK, also attended the committee session to learn more about the problems caused by poor air quality.

The children, from Chestnuts Primary in Haringey which took part in a video campaign highlighting the problems of playground pollution earlier this year,  handed in their own letters and drawings to 10 Downing Street afterwards.

Katie Horwood, headteacher at Chestnuts, said: ”Children’s lungs must be protected and they  should be able to breathe clean air when they are outside. More needs to be done around school playgrounds. That’s why the children wanted to come today and show the Prime Minister their concerns about air pollution.”

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David Bebber