UNLIKE issues like social care, Chancellor Philip Hammond did, in fact, refer to environmental matters in this week’s Spring Statement when he promised action to tackle plastic littering and consider reduced Vehicle Excuse Duty rates for the cleanest vans in a bid to reduce pollution.
Yet, judging by today’s joint report by no less than four Parliamentary committees, far more needs to be done after they concluded that air pollution is a national health emergency that leads to 40,000 early deaths each year and costs the UK economy £20bn a year.
It’s an unsustainable false economy. And, while the Government is likely to resist calls for a new Clean Air Act, it should, in fact, consider such a radical move if it is truly committed to improving air quality, enhancing the natural environment and reducing the number of people who require NHS care for asthma and bronchial illnesses. Such a strategy might actually encourage families to reduce their own carbon footprint and galvanise local councils, and others, to do more to reduce congestion – one of the main drivers of pollution – at traffic blackspots.
In this regard, it’s welcome that Leeds Council plans to install new smart signals along the main A65 to stop the unnecessary build-up of vehicles in peak-times because of poorly programmed traffic lights. It’s a start. Contrast this with Sheffield Council where its tree-felling programme is an act of environmental vandalism that proves the need for the Government to offer national leadership on air pollution. After all, it is trees which are the lungs of the environment.