AIR pollution is deadly. That is a fact we can’t hide from any longer. Last week, a coroner ruled that dangerous levels of air pollution “made a material contribution” to the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah in central London.
Before her death of a severe asthma attack in February 2013, Ella endured numerous seizures and been admitted to hospital more than 30 times in three years. Toxic air pollution is a health crisis that our Government and local authorities have ignored for too long. It affects all of us. But it is our children that are most affected by this. We can’t carry on the way things are any longer. More than a third of Highways England roads have illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
For decades now, the Green Party has been calling for the tough policies we need if we are going to put our health first. Firstly, we need to ditch our obsession with widening or building new roads. Across our region, our Labour-run councils and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is spending millions on road building schemes – many through areas already suffering from horrendous levels of air pollution.
Earlier this year, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority earmarked £24m to widen Tong Street in the south part of Bradford. According to data, the streets off Tong Street have some of the worst health outcomes in the country. Similar schemes have already been given the green light across West Yorkshire. £120m is earmarked to widen the A629 between Huddersfield and Halifax, £37.5m for the Wakefield Eastern Relief Road and £57.16m for the East Leeds Orbital Road, to pick just a few.
In fact, of the £875m allocated as part of the West Yorkshire-plus Transport Fund, £660m is allocated to road building programmes and only just under £20m to building railway stations – just the one in Elland.
Secondly, we need to rethink our planning policies to reduce our dependency on travelling by car. New housing developments must be designed to make getting around by cycling or walking easier and more convenient.
New industrial units must be kept away from residential areas and access roads should be kept away from schools.
Finally, we must keep traffic away from schools and residential areas. Progress is already starting on this with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods being introduced in parts of Leeds, and Bradford Council piloting School Streets. But the pace is too slow.
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