Leeds City Council have completed their second consultation on the Clean Air Zone which is due to begin in Leeds next year. The city has shown leadership in tackling what has become a very serious public health issue as well as ambition with the size and scope of the zone.
I promised at the last General Election to ‘make tackling air pollution an urgent priority’. This, alongside my work as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee and history of campaigning for environmental and public health issues, has led me to produce a second submission to Leeds City Council.
In my last submission, I highlighted the urgent need to address the air quality issues that exist outside of the current zone, particularly in areas such as Pool in Wharfedale and Otley. I also called on the local authority to look to more stringent measures, such as the World Health Organisation guidelines, as a target for the city’s air pollution. It is important to remember that there are no safe levels of air pollution, so it is imperative that we set the highest possible bar for air quality.
In this submission, I highlighted the need for improving infrastructure. As well as the ‘stick’ for vehicles that contravene the zone, we need a ‘carrot’ for the cleanest vehicles to enter the city. This means charging points as well as electric vehicle priority for taxi and hackney carriage licencing. We must also give priority for funding bids to businesses with fleets of vans or cars to support the transition to electric vehicles. Businesses should have confidence around deliveries and as part of supporting the electric transition, Leeds should invest in hubs where electric charging is located for heavy vehicles to drop goods for clean electric vans to undertake last mile delivery.
We must also invest in out of city parking and cycling infrastructure in order to reduce the number of private cars entering the city. This includes researching locations for park and rides, and look to establishing new sustainable cycle routes into the city centre as well as developing existing ones.
We need the best possible public transport links into the city centre. This would require providing more frequent bus services connecting towns with each other and the city centre. First Bus have promised a ten-minute express service (X84/X85) from Otley to Leeds. This should be introduced prior to the introduction of the CAZ.
Finally, we need to acknowledge the impact of air pollution on the city’s children. According to UNICEF, there are at least 174,200 of children are growing up in Leeds City with unsafe levels of air pollution. Primary school children in Leeds are being exposed to 30 per cent more pollution than adults while walking along busy roads due to their closer proximity to vehicle exhaust fumes and children are the most proportionately highly affected compared to their contribution to polluted air. It is vital that we embark on a public awareness campaign, engaging and informing schools and other organisations about air pollution and promoting clean transport routes to schools. This is something I have been working on over recess and hope to see come to fruition in the not-too-distant future.
Toxic air pollution is a public health catastrophe in need of a radical solution. As a city, we are a in a unique position in which we have an opportunity make a real difference to air quality levels– now and for generations to come. I believe that my constituents deserve to breathe clean air, and I believe that it is only with a Clean Air Zone that we can make this a reality.