Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Time to clean up

In 1936, George Orwell walked in to Sheffield over Wincobank Hill – he was writing The Road to Wigan Pier. He noted of Sheffield “It seems to me, by daylight, one of the most appalling places I have ever seen.  In whichever direction you look, you see the same landscape of monstrous chimneys pouring forth smoke which is sometimes black and sometimes of a rosy tint said to be due to sulphur.  You can smell the sulphur in the air all the while.”

The Clean Air legislation and policies of the 1950s had a dramatic effect upon pollution levels across the city, but particularly in the east end. Mind you, until relatively recently, some of the remaining industrial activities in the Don Valley meant that building new homes in Attercliffe was not an option.

But, whilst air quality has generally improved, some parts of the city have increasingly suffered from air pollution mainly caused by traffic. The pollution levels breach national and European thresholds. It is estimated to account for up to 500 premature deaths per year in Sheffield, with health costs of around £160 million per year. It has short and long-term health impacts, particularly for respiratory and cardiovascular health, including increased admissions to hospital.

People in Tinsley have been particularly affected by pollution from the M1, where traffic levels have continued to rise. It is clear that no real improvements can be made without government action. However, it has recently announced that it intends to introduce traffic management arrangements on the M1, including use of the hard shoulder during peak times. There is a real danger that this could worsen the situation, unless traffic speeds are reduced.

With the support of local Councillors, I am again pressing Ministers to come clean (sic) about the action that the government intends to take to ensure that the EU targets are met. I’ll keep you advised of the response.