Molly and Caroline Lucas unveil plans to deal with air pollution ‘health emergency’ in Bristol

Molly was joined by Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas in Bristol today to unveil the Party’s plan to tackle air pollution.

The announcement comes as the Government is expected to release their own plans to tackle illegal air pollution in many UK cities, including Bristol.

Molly describes the problem as a ‘health emergency’. She points to research showing nearly two thirds of the British population live in towns and cities where air pollution levels breach EU legal limits and that toxic air is responsible for an estimated 40,000 premature deaths every year. In Bristol alone, 300 deaths a year are linked to air pollution.

The Green Party’s air pollution plan includes a Clean Air Act which would enshrine the right to breathe clean air in law, expanding ‘Clean Air Zones’ which would limit the most polluting vehicles entering Bristol, and large scale investment in clean public transport. Molly said:

“Clean air isn’t a luxury, it’s a basic human right. Given that more deaths in Bristol are linked with toxic air than road traffic accidents, this is a health emergency. Air pollution is a particular threat to children as it restricts lung growth and can therefore have life-long impacts. No way should children in Bristol be forced to walk through a toxic soup to get to school or be prevented from playing outdoors because the air quality is so bad.

“It is nothing short of scandalous that Tory Minsters show such a shocking disregard for the UK’s legal and moral obligation to take action on air pollution. Even more outrageous that they sought to use the general election as a smokescreen for inaction and to cover up their total failure to protect public health.

“Thanks to EU regulations on air quality, the European Commission and environmental lawyers have been able to drag the government through the courts and force them to publish a plan of action. However, we cannot breathe easy over the proposals [5] as they are likely to prevent cities like Bristol from creating clean air zones. The Tories have constantly tried to water down regulations on pollution in Europe and have a dangerously cosy relationship with the car manufacturing industry and its lobbyists.”

“The Conservative government begrudgingly acknowledges that any positive air quality action it has been forced to take has been driven by EU law. Given how gung-ho many Tories are about tearing up EU environmental legislation post-Brexit, it is essential we have a Clean Air Act to ensure future UK governments cannot avoid their moral and environmental responsibilities to tackle our toxic air.”

Bristol Green Party has also developed a plan to specifically tackle Bristol’s poor air quality and more than 4,000 people have signed a ‘Let Bristol Breathe’ petition, supported by Molly, which calls for the establishment of a Clean Air Zone in the city.

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What should a comprehensive Air Quality Plan include?

Clean Air Act: It should rapidly introduce a new Clean Air Act to tackle the sources of modern day air pollution that are harming people’s health, enshrine the right to breathe into UK law, and ensure the UK becomes a world leader in the new technologies and industries that will help us clean up our air.

Expand ‘Clean Air Zones’: It should expand and strengthen the network of Clean Air Zones across the country – limiting the most polluting vehicles, including cars, from entering air pollution hot-spots – creating funding for local authorities to invest in walking, cycling and clean public transport. These should be strong enough to ensure legal compliance on NO2 by the end of 2018.

Increase VED: It should increase the first year Vehicle Excise Duty on new diesel vehicles (except vans) by around £800, to reflect the additional cost to society of dirty diesel engines, raising £500m to help fund a targeted diesel scrappage scheme.

Diesel Scrappage: It should introduce a targeted diesel scrappage scheme to take diesel vehicles off the road as soon as possible, and ensure that all those who live within Clean Air Zones can affordably replace polluting diesel vehicles. As well as offering replacement clean vehicles, these schemes should also offer alternatives such as car club membership and rail season tickets.

Note: Despite a $10bn vehicle replacement programme in the United States, VW has only embarked upon an opaque programme of ‘technical fixes’ on its 1.2 million vehicles in the UK . The Greens, working through UK regulators, would ensure that VW and others offer free vehicle replacement or retrofitting – as has happened in the United States.

Fine the Cheats: It should set out a plan for how companies who cheated emissions testing would be fined. Despite a $14.7bn settlement in the US, Volkswagen, for example, has yet to pay any damages in the EU – an equivalent fine in the UK could raise more than £8 billion from VW alone.

Independent Regulation: It should guarantee the independence of the Vehicle Certification Agency – changing the way it is funded ensuring that the car industry doesn’t have a disproportionate influence on its activities.

Monitor Pollution Hotspots: It should ensure there is a comprehensive network of air monitoring stations in pollution hotspots – ensuring that air quality is monitored around hospitals, health clinics, and schools, so that those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution, notably children, the elderly and infirm, are protected.

Active Transport: It should undertake a national review of transport system with serious investment in buses, trams and trains along with safe routes for walking and cycling. People need an alternative to car use and we must protect our towns, cities and countryside from the pollution and congestion that comes with new roads.

Clean Energy: It should scale-up investment in renewable energy – which, as it stands, is set to drop by 95% over next two years. Harnessing the clean energy that we have in abundance would be a win-win, both for tackling climate change and air pollution.

Ditch Coal: It should should bring forward the coal phaseout date to 2023 at the least, and gradually end the £6bn a year subsidies in the UK to dirty energy. Pollution from the UK’s coal-fired fleet causes roughly 2,900 premature deaths a year.

How should this be funded?

There are no cheap fixes when it comes to cleaning up the air we breathe: the long term solution is to completely change the way we travel to reduce the traffic on our roads. Further, any action we take now will relieve pressure on our health services in the future, and reduce the £20bn cost of dirty air – as calculated by the Royal College of Physicians. As noted above, the Air Quality Plan should ensure that car companies who cheated emissions are appropriately fined, and that such levies are used to fund action on air quality. UK regulators – namely, the Competition and Markets Authority, the Vehicle Certification Agency, and the Serious Fraud Office – should force car manufacturers in the UK to replace or retrofit polluting diesel vehicles.