Air pollution in British cities is shortening people’s lives, damaging the health of children and increasing the burden on the NHS, political leaders (including the leader of Peterborough City Council) have warned the Government.
Conservative Cllr John Holdich has joined London Mayor Sadiq Khan and his Labour counterparts in cities including Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol who signed an open letter to Theresa May urging her to launch “an ambitious national plan for clean air”.
They want new clean air legislation, a vehicle renewal scheme to replace old vehicles that produce more pollution and funding for cities to create “clean air zones” and invest in cleaner public transport, cycling and walking schemes.
Peterborough currently has the aspiration to be the UK’s Environment Capital.
The letter was also addressed to Chancellor Philip Hammond and Environment Secretary Michael Gove and follows the first ever National Clean Air Summit in June hosted by Mr Khan, the UK100 Cities network and think tank IPPR.
Mr Khan said thousands across the UK were suffering because of “toxic air”, adding: “We urgently need a new Clean Air and Environment Act and robust new powers and resources for cities to get to grips with local pollution.
“The only way we can rid our streets of the dirtiest diesel engines is by ministers introducing a targeted national vehicle renewal scheme.
“If Michael Gove can work with us on these much needed measures then we will finally be able to clean up our illegal air once and for all.”
The letter’s signatories include several former MPs turned mayors, including Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram, Dan Jarvis and Sir Peter Soulsby.
It also includes the leaders of councils in Southampton, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham and Oxford.
In the letter they warn: “Our country’s polluted air is shortening lives, damaging our children’s lungs and severely impacting on the NHS as well as costing the economy in working days lost.
“Crucially, these consequences do not fall equally across our society but disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable.”
Mr Rotheram, the Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, said: “Our most deprived communities, who already have to cope with multiple health problems, suffer most from the effects of polluted air.
“In the Liverpool City Region we have areas where men have a life expectancy seven years lower than the national average.”
He added there had already been some successes, with 70 per cent of buses low emission models, but that “there is only so much that we can do as an individual area”.
Cllr Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, added: “A key theme that came from the National Clean Air Summit earlier this year was around the action required by the Government on the issue of local air quality plans and proposals.
“We need to make sure we are aligning priorities on both a national and local level to ensure that proposed actions and initiatives to improve air quality are able to be implemented.”
The UK100 is a network of 90 local and regional authorities that have committed to 100 per cent clean energy by 2050.
Director Polly Billington said: “A public health crisis needs strong consistent action across the country.
“The local leaders know this is a shared responsibility with government ministers and want to work together to tackle this.”
A government spokeswoman said: “Although air quality has improved in recent years, with nitrogen oxide emissions falling by 27 per cent and sulphur dioxide emissions down 60 per cent, we recognise there is more to do.
“That is why we are taking action through our £3.5 billion plan to reduce harmful emissions and our ambitious new Clean Air Strategy which has been welcomed by the WHO (World Health Organisation).
“By ending the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040 we are also acting faster to tackle air pollution than almost every other major developed economy.
“Our forthcoming Environment Bill will also include provisions to improve air quality and ensure we leave our environment in a better state than we found it.”