Call to enshire better air quality in a new Great Smog-style law

Legislation equivalent to what was introduced in response to London's Great Smog in the 1950s is urgently needed now to reduce the effects of harmful emissions on public health, according to a leading group of engineers.

Air pollution causes one in ten of all deaths globally.

With 71 percent of local authorities having missed air quality targets for 2017, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers today publishes a new report that warns the UK needs a modern Clean Air Act to address emissions across all forms of transport.

Air pollution causes one in ten of all deaths globally and although councils in Yorkshire and beyond are taking steps to introduce Clean Air Zones, the group is adamant that stringent new laws are needed to secure changes that would protect against associated health problems such as slow development of children’s lungs and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases among the elderly.

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The group wants a new national scheme to help set informed emissions targets by monitoring different transport types and says incentives should be set to encourage freight deliveries outside of peak hours and the phasing-out of diesel cars and trains.

It also calls for the Government to work with Network Rail to deliver the complete electrification of main rail lines between principal cities and ports, while assessments should be made of emerging technologies for carbon emissions throughout the technology’s entire lifecycle, including the procurement of parts and fuel.

Other recommendations in the report include funding research into emission-cutting measures for different modes of transport, an awareness campaign to promote the benefits of switching to lower-emission types of transport, and trials to assess the levels and effects of exposure to pollutants on commuters and railway workers, in overground and underground railway stations, ports, airports and bus stations.

Philippa Oldham, the report’s lead author, said: “Individuals breathe in 20kg of air every day and because we can’t see it, we don’t know about the harmful particles it contains.

“Regular commuters encounter air pollution twice a day up to 250 days a year. Even railway stations have relatively high levels of air pollution from diesel.”

She listed Leeds and Sheffield among major railway stations where there are a high numbers of diesel-operated trains and said different communities need their own solutions to air pollution.

As part of a Clean Air Zone in Leeds, a proposal is currently out for public consultation on whether to charge the most polluting buses and lorries £100 a day and taxis £12.50 a day to use all roads within the Leeds outer ring road.

In York, a bus-based Clean Air Zone featuring a single, ultra-low emissions standard for the majority of local bus services, is being considered by the city council.

Measures to deter drivers who leave their engines idling in the city centre, with potential enforcement options, will also being considered by York Council at a meeting on Thursday.

Ms Oldham believes the time has come to take firm action on air pollution.

“Back in the 1950s, doctors kick-started a national movement on the risks of smoking; there is a need to start doing the same with air quality, to encourage people to drive less and use public transport, walk and cycle more,” she said.

A Government spokesperson said: “Air pollution has improved significantly since 2010, but we recognise there is more to do which is why we have put in place a £3.5billion plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions.

“We will also end the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040, and this year we will publish a comprehensive clean air strategy which will set out further steps to tackle air pollution.”