YP Comment: EU wake-up call over pollution as Leeds named and shamed

Gridlock in Leeds.

Gridlock in Leeds.

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IT goes without saying that the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ will become devalued, and become mocked as the ‘Northern PR-house’, unless the rhetoric is turned into reality. This means infrastructure schemes which make a material difference to this region’s future prosperity.

On the day that the European Commission admonished the UK for breaching pollution targets in 16 areas, including Leeds, it was ironic that details emerged of people losing their jobs in the West Yorkshire city because of the unreliability of public transport at critical times.

Regardless of this country’s Brexit negotiations with the EU, policy-makers have a moral – and political – obligation to protect the environment and this ‘final warning’ gives added impetus to plans to create a clean air zone in Leeds city centre.

That said, the proposals are modest – they involve restrictions on just a handful of heavy-polluting vehicles – and need to be re-enforced by bus and train services that meet the needs, and expectations, of a growing population that is increasingly transient when it comes to seeking out employment opportunities.

The fact that ‘victims’ have spoken so candidly to Leeds Council leader Judith Blake about their experiences is helpful. Not only does it reveal the human impact of unreliable transport, as evidenced by the Southern train strike, but she’s the politician tasked with creating a world-class transport network after the trolleybus scheme was vetoed because it would not have benefited sufficient jobseekers and young people – the very cohort let down by late-running or cancelled buses.

And while Leeds Council has certainly not helped itself over the years when it comes to transport, the future direction of travel will be a litmus test of the Northern Powerhouse’s effectiveness. As such, there needs to be a sea-change in delivery and attitudes. After all, a failure to act will only exacerbate pollution and smog levels with serious side-effects for public health. For once, this is a warning from Europe that must be heeded.

Doctors’ orders

THAT the NHS has become such a political football masks the challenge of treating people who pursue unhealthy lifestyles through personal choice. Unless more patients accept responsibility for their wellbeing, the system will creak – irrespective of which party is in power.

However there will be raised eyebrows at the Royal College of GPs which has blamed funding pressures for the non-availability of appointments. To many, it is the failure of family doctors to provide sufficient out-of-hours cover which has compounded the A&E crisis and shortage of hospital beds.

Yet, while digital services mean it is possible for patients to check their blood pressure at home rather than require a time-consuming appointment with their GP, many individuals, particularly the elderly and less tech-savvy, prefer the reassurance of a face-to-face consultation.

Given that most patients have to see their doctor in the first instance before being referred elsewhere for specialist treatment or further tests, the outcome of a trial scheme in Wakefield, where surgery receptionists act as ‘care navigators’, could be key to the future of the NHS.

If they command sufficient trust, and point people in the right direction, GPs might be able to spend more time doing what they’re trained to do – treating the sick and frail.

Dickie Bird’s roots

UNLIKE so many sporting celebrities, the incomparable Dickie Bird has never lost touch with his roots. In contrast to England’s newly-unveiled Test captain Joe Root who has moved from Sheffield to join the Cheshire county set on the other side of the Pennines, sport’s greatest umpire of all – the 83-year-old miner’s son is certainly the most famous and instantly recognisable – remains a proud resident of Barnsley, the town which made him.

It’s why cricket devotees, and Dickie himself as he wipes away a tear of pride, will be bowled over by a new display at Experience Barnsley which charts a career like no other. A national treasure, it’s a fitting tribute to an unique umpire whose witticisms – and eccentricities – won the respect, and admiration, of world cricket’s greatest names before the advent of TV technology diminished the role. From humble beginnings, the fact that he never left South Yorkshire meant there was never any danger of Dickie becoming too big for his boots – part of his enduring charm. They’re values that cricket’s cheeky cherub Joe Root should hold dear as he begins the next phase of his own career.

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