John Biggs & Rachel Blake: Government must do more to help us clean our dirty air

John Biggs & Rachel Blake: Government must do more to help us clean our dirty air

Today is national Clean Air Day and to mark it we, as Tower Hamlets politicans, are calling on national government to take action to address the public health scandal of dirty air.

Every year, 9,500 people are dying prematurely in London due to air pollution and a King’s College study showed that children in our borough have up to 10% less lung capacity than is normal. Currently poor air quality disproportionately impacts more deprived areas. It can’t be right that a child who grows up near a main road in Poplar has health outcomes that can be significantly worse than those elsewhere in the capital, just because of where they were born.

As a council we are doing what we can. Our Breathe Clean campaign encourages residents to change their travel behaviour to walking or cycling where possible. Our enforcement officers carry out anti-idling actions, and we’re closing some roads to traffic by creating school streets and play streets. An air quality fund is giving innovative groups in the community small pots of money to do their bit, and our Liveable Streets programme is aiming to make the borough easier to walk and cycle around.

When people hear about the impact on children’s lungs it shocks them. We need to get this message to more of them. We all have our part to play. Not everyone can leave their car at home, but there are journeys people could walk or make by public transport instead.

Although a lot of the toxic emissions result from short journeys made within the borough, some of our pollution is the result of people passing through, whether queuing to get into the Blackwell Tunnel or driving into Central London. Addressing that part of the problem requires action across borough boundaries. Sadiq Khan’s introduction of an Ultra Low Emission Zone is welcome, but national government has let us down. Forty per cent of Tower Hamlets residents live in areas that breach EU and government guidance on safe levels of air pollution. When will the government say enough is enough?

Its record has been poor. It has slashed green subsidies across the board and was taken to the Supreme Court by Client Earth for its failure to address air pollution. Only then did the government produce an action plan, but then passed the back by handing responsibility for it down to local councils. We recently wrote to them calling for the ban on diesel cars to be brought forward from 2040 to 2030. This needs to be backed up by investing in a national scrappage scheme to help our residents with the cost of converting to cleaner vehicles.

Air pollution affects us all, but we also know it affects some people’s life chances more than others. Acting to ensure that these aren’t adversely shaped by accident of birth is a progressive policy we back and we need the government to do the same. Our children’s lungs can’t wait. Action is needed now.

John Biggs is the directly elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets and Rachel Blake is his deputy and his cabinet member for air quality. is dedicated to providing fair and thorough coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. The site depends on donations from readers and is also seeking support from suitable organisations. Read more about that here.

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