Air pollution in the UK results in the premature deaths of at least 29,000 people a year. Air pollution hits the most vulnerable and children hardest. The World Health Organisation warns that air pollution is carcinogenic; it’s the primary environmental cause of cancer.
Because of the coalition government’s failure to act, the date at which the UK is expected to achieve compliance with legal air quality limits was revised from 2020 to 2030 last year.
Action on air pollution has collapsed across the country. There has been no improvement in the UK’s air quality over the last year and almost 90% of the country now exceeds legal air pollution limits. It is a particular concern in South Yorkshire and especially in my constituency where pollution levels in the areas around the M1 experience extremely poor air quality standards.
Bizarrely, last year, the Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment wrote to every local authority where air pollution exceeded legal limits to explain that “ultimate legal responsibility for air pollution lay with local authorities and that any fines levied on the Government would be passed on to them.”
Now, I’m fully in favour of ensuring that local councils are taking the appropriate action to cut air pollution. But, suggesting that Sheffield and Rotherham Councils should pay fines because the UK government wouldn’t act to cut air pollution from the M1 was clearly ridiculous.
In April, the Supreme Court ruled against the Secretary of State and stating that: “The new government should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action, which is achieved by an order that new plans must be delivered to the European Commission not later than 31 December 2015.”
The Government has to reverse its quite irresponsible approach to air pollution and to ensure local people have cleaner air in the shortest time possible.
Last year, it was clear that the Department of Transport just wanted to press ahead with the expansion of the M1 through South Yorkshire and to pay little attention to the consequent air pollution problems. That cannot continue.