MPs warn of air pollution emergency

In an unprecedented report, four influential committees of MPs have demanded faster action to clean up the UK's "poisonous air", which is costing the country billions. 

The Environment, Health, Transport and Environmental Audit committees want a new Clean Air Act, and a clean air fund financed by the motor industry. They are also demanding that petrol and diesel cars are phased out sooner than the planned 2040 deadline. 

Campaigners against Heathrow expansion are repeatedly complaining about air pollution and the nonsensical proposal to add 260,000 flights at an airport that has repeatedly failed to bring pollution levels down to legal limits. 

Despite a series of court cases, the government has still not produced a plan that adequately addresses the scale of the challenge. Nor has it demonstrated the national leadership needed.
— MPs report, Improving Air Quality
Air pollution during childhood can cause life-long health problems

Air pollution during childhood can cause life-long health problems


The airport blames road vehicles not air travel for pollution and claims that only 10% of the vehicles on the roads around Heathrow have anything to do with the airport. That is patently ridiculous when the airport is trumpeting it's freight business and large number of passengers. Its own consultation exposed that it doesn't count the vehicles that travel to the airport, such as cars taking air passengers to hotels, if the cars don't cross the airport boundary. If the passengers later use a Hotel Hoppa bus, which run for hotel guests going to Terminals, that will only count as one vehicle even if the bus contains 50 people who all travelled into the area by car. 

They have also shot themselves in the foot by claiming that only 10% of traffic is airport related  because this would indicate that the airport has no control over the other 90% so cannot guarantee it can improve air quality around Heathrow. Its claims regarding electric vehicles and investment are all for vehicles INSIDE the airport not on local roads. 

We all deserve to breathe air that won't shorten our lives.                              Photo: Kristian Buus

We all deserve to breathe air that won't shorten our lives.                              Photo: Kristian Buus

The government says that air pollution generally has improved significantly since 2010 but that there is "more to do".  When Heathrow wanted a third runway to be operational by 2015 it claimed we would have clean air by then - even with a third runway. It goes to show that you can't   trust predictions unless you are also taking extreme action to ensure improvements are made. A third runway could only happen if the vehicles most of us drive are banned. 

Ministers have promised to publish a comprehensive clean air strategy later this year but if a third runway at Heathrow is still on the table it will make a mockery of any such a plan for Londoners and people living in the surrounding areas. 

This new report released today, entitled Improving Air Quality, says air pollution is a national health emergency resulting in an estimated 40,000 early deaths each year, costing the UK £20bn annually. You can sense the frustration of MPs who see improving air quality as a no-brainer for the country. 

“It is unacceptable that successive governments have failed to protect the public from poisonous air.
— MPs report, "Improving Air Quality"

The report urges the Treasury to take greater account of the costs of air pollution when setting tax and spend policy. 

While some car manufacturers are funding scrappage schemes to get older vehicles off the road, this isn't going to be enough. 

The government has called for evidence on pollution from other sources such as wood stoves, coal fires and smokeless fuel. It is also looking at the use of cheap agricultural red diesel in food delivery vans.

Greenpeace has said the car industry could not continue to be allowed to "shake off its responsibility" for the pollution crisis the UK was facing. 

"The public was missold highly polluting diesel cars by manufacturers who knew road emissions were many times higher than in the lab," said its senior political adviser Rosie Rogers. 

"It's high time manufacturers felt the heat, and contributing to a clean air fund is a good start."

However, it is clear that trying to reach the maximum level permitted by the EU is not good enough. World Health Organisation air quality guidelines are already tougher than those set by the EU.

The public should not tolerate the attitude that being poisoned by the air they are forced to breathe is an acceptable price to be paid for "jobs", "growth", "progress" or any other lame excuse for taking insufficient action. 

Recent reports have drawn a possible link between pollution and attention deficit disorder and dementia. 

Voters should be angry if their elected representatives are not backing this report wholeheartedly.

MP who support polluting projects like Heathrow's third runway deserve having to face their angry constituents.