Tens of thousands of people die early every year in the UK because of air pollution. This is a national scandal and would have been avoidable if the Government had taken proper action. It is therefore clear that the Government must act urgently to prevent this crisis.
I recently raised this issue with a government minister and will be meeting her in due course to discuss the air pollution problem in Bristol.
I am very concerned about the UK routinely exceeding the legal levels for pollution, as set out in a 2008 EU Ambient Air Quality Directive. I share these concerns and fear that many environmental protections – including on air quality – are at risk following the outcome of the EU referendum. I believe that the Government must guarantee that air quality standards will not be watered down once the UK leaves the EU.
I believe that the Government must incorporate the provisions of the clean air directive into UK law and then begin to comply with its provisions in a way in which it has failed to for the past six years. Indeed, as I am sure you are aware, the High Court has recently ruled that the Government is failing to protect British people from the dangers of polluted air. This is the second time in eighteen months that the Government has been found guilty of inaction and leaves no doubt that it has been negligent over addressing air quality in the UK.
It is clear the Government must do much more to tackle air pollution, particularly as we know it is linked to cancer, asthma, strokes and heart disease and causes up to 50,000 premature deaths each year in the UK. It is also alarming that primary schools have been forced to close because they are exposing young children to dangerous levels of pollution. Air pollution disproportionately affects more deprived communities and this must change. The Government needs to urgently review its air quality plans and put in place a network of Clean Air Zones across all 37 of the 43 areas across the UK with high emission levels.
I would like to see a national framework for low emission zones and genuine action at international level to close loopholes in emissions testing. Most importantly, the Government will need to set out how enforcement mechanisms will be put in place once the UK has left the EU, because currently the UK Government can be taken to the EU Court for failing to meet its obligations.
I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to urgently establish a comprehensive plan on air quality in order to clean up our air and save the lives of tens of thousands of people.