April 2018: From Our MP

March 29 2018

Why I support a Clean Air levy

AIR pollution is a silent killer. It is now estimated to be responsible for a shocking 300 deaths in Bristol every year. Evidence has emerged over the past decade about the negative health effects that ultrafine particles like nitrogen oxides (NOx) have on human health. And the Volkswagen scandal revealed that many cars were emitting far higher rates of these harmful particles than had been predicted – with ‘real world’ emissions being up to 15 times as high as in a lab. So the situation has become urgent, and action is needed.

On Fishponds Road, Bristol City Council has set up a Monitoring Station which you can use to view live data readings of the air quality and the concentration of harmful air pollutants. Sadly, too often the data from such stations shows that around major roads, particularly in the city centre, there are harmful concentrations of pollutants. This is especially worrying when considering the number of schools in these areas, with children becoming increasingly likely to develop asthma and more serious conditions due to air pollution.

A major cross-committee report from environmental, transport, and health committees on air pollution has identified key failings in current regulation and called on the Government to act. Most notably, it has said that we need a new Clean Air Act to improve existing legislation and enshrine the right to clean air in law. In the 1950s we had a Clean Air Act which followed London’s Great Smog that claimed thousands of lives, and was important for preventing the amount of smoke and sulphur pollution in the air. But that was more than 60 years ago, now we need a new law to tackle today’s air pollution problems. 

The Government has now been taken to court – and lost – three times by the campaign group Client Earth, because it’s not doing enough on clean air. For instance, it’s said that the sale of new diesel and petrol cars must end by 2040, over 20 years from now. Since this date was set the price of production of electric cars has fallen dramatically, and several countries have set more ambitious targets of 2025 or 2030, but our Government is unwilling to budge. 

Bristol City Council is doing what it can at a local level, and recently passed a motion committing them to take comprehensive action in order to reduce levels of air pollution. By the end of 2018 a clean air strategy, which is currently under consideration, should have been finalised. One of the proposals which I support – although I know it will be controversial - is to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone; this would place a levy on the most polluting vehicles to enter the worst affected areas, and is the quickest way to improve air quality. 

 We need support from the Government though, and in particular, proper levels of investment in our public transport infrastructure so that people don’t have to drive. The Government needs to step up and start taking air pollution seriously: there are lives at stake.