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Why We Should Care About Clean Air

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Leeds is consulting on the implementation of a clean air zone (CAZ) which is set to start in 2019. I congratulate the city for taking the lead on what we are fast discovering is an urgent risk to public health.

On average, poor air quality contributes to one early death per constituency per week. We can reasonably assume that since my constituency of Leeds North West has relatively high rates of cardiac and respiratory conditions, we will have a higher than average rate of early death caused by pollution.

Whilst banning heavy diesel polluters from the city centre and surrounding areas is a good start, the consultation allows us the opportunity to think more deeply about the problem.

NO2 and PMs.

There are two major polluters in our air that should concern us: Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PMs). Both pollutants are harmful to our health, but it is PMs that are the major contributor to respiratory and cardiac problems.

Whilst we have many monitoring stations for NO2 (111 to be exact) we do not have nearly enough that monitor PMs – just three in the whole of the city. We need to be pushing national government to provide the money needed for a proper assessment of the problem in every area of Leeds.

One reason for the lack of monitoring is that PMs often don’t breach EU standards, unlike NO2. But there is no safe level for PMs in the air, and whilst we might meet EU guidelines we are far short of the standards set by the World Health Organisation. Yes, PM monitoring is expensive but without it, we are risking the health of a city.

Leeds is one of the most forward-thinking cities in the UK and where we lead others will follow – that’s why it is important for Leeds to be the first city in the UK to set the target of meeting WHO standards for air quality.

Getting out of the car

We need also to think proactively about ways to encourage ‘modal shift’ – that is ways that we can encourage people out of their cars and onto other modes of transport. That’s why my submission requests the following:

  1.  To continue to work towards being a cycle-friendly city, making sure we have safe cycling routes especially through the A660

  2.  To look to other ways, both economic and practical, of removing the barriers to cycling as a commute—small things like making sure there are enough workplace shower facilities can make a real difference

  3. To make sure we are investing properly in our commuter rail. I would like to see Bramhope Parkway Station brought forward to 2021

Going Electric Electric vehicle technology is here and widely available but it is important that our city responds by installing the correct infrastructure. My constituency does not have a single public electric vehicle charge point. This needs to change quickly – I believe It must be a legal requirement for new carparks and petrol stations to install public EVCPs.

We also need to look towards incentivising the switch from petrol and diesel engines to electric and hybrid technology. I welcome the council’s promise to incentivise taxi-drivers with grants to switch and we should look to other cities to see how they are using parking and levies to encourage drivers to switch. But electric vehicles are for many, prohibitively expensive and we need to be asking the government how it will incentivise people nationally to go electric.

The cost of clean air Many of these proposals are not cheap. It is asking a lot of any local council in 2018 to bear the weight of cleaning up our air alone. The council have lost 40% of its government grant since 2010 and simply cannot afford many of the measures that need to be put in place to have a clean air programme that works.

It is important for parliamentarians like me, but also councils and individuals across our city, to put pressure on the government to provide the money necessary to solve this problem. We cannot put a price on air that is safe to breathe. I believe that a clean future is possible for Leeds but we need public support, political will and government funding to make it a reality.

Please see Alex’s clean air submission here. You can respond to the consultation here.


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