Ditch the car on Clean Air Day!

14 June 2017

Tomorrow (15th June) is the first UK Clean Air Day. The sun will be shining (probably) and it’s the perfect day to ditch the car and walk or cycle to work or school. It’s also Bike Week, and the lovely people at Bicycle Links on King Street are offering free bike check-ups between 11am and 5pm. Another incentive to switch to a healthier, greener way of getting around!

We in the Green Party love clean air. We talk about it quite a bit, as you’ve probably noticed, because we think it’s an absolute outrage that the air we all breathe is so filthy in cities that it’s causing respiratory diseases, inhibiting brain development in children and contributing to dementia. And the government is doing everything it can to ignore the problem, even though it’s been told by the High Court that its plans are so poor they are actually illegal.

Norwich’s Green Party councillors have submitted a response to the government consultation on its plans to reduce nitrogen dioxide pollution in towns and cities. We argue that the plans don’t go anywhere near far enough. They pass all the responsibility to under-funded local councils, with no extra money, and make no real attempt to deal with the problem of diesel cars clogging up our streets. Here’s what Greens are telling the government to do instead:

  1. Introduce a new Clean Air Act addressing the causes of pollution and enshrining in law the right to breathe clean air.
  2. Commit to an extensive network of charging Clean Air Zones, strong enough to ensure legal compliance on NO2 by the end of 2018.
  3. Increase the first year Vehicle Excise Duty on new diesel vehicles by around £800, to reflect the additional cost to society of dirty diesel engines, raising £500m. This could help fund a targeted diesel scrappage scheme.
  4. Introduce a targeted diesel scrappage scheme to take diesel vehicles off the road as soon as possible, and ensure that all those who live within Clean Air Zones can affordably replace polluting diesel vehicles. These schemes should offer low-emission vehicles, but also alternatives such as car club membership and rail season tickets.
  5. Set out a plan for how companies who cheated emissions testing will be fined. Despite a $14.7bn settlement in the US, Volkswagen, for example, has yet to pay any damages in the EU - an equivalent fine in the UK could raise more than £8 billion from VW alone. This could fund a diesel scrappage scheme and charging infrastructure for low-emission vehicles.
  6. Guarantee the independence of the Vehicle Certification Agency by funding it through taxation, e.g. by increasing VED, so it is not dependent on funding from the industry.
  7. Bring forward the coal phaseout date to 2023 at the latest, scale up investment in renewable energy, and end the £6bn a year subsidies in the UK to fossil fuels.
  8. Commit to major investment in buses, trams and trains along with safe routes for walking and cycling. The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy contains some of the right ideas, but not the funding to implement them – funding outside London will be just £1.38 per person, where the Netherlands spends £24. Decisions about transport spending should be made by elected national or local government, not by LEPs, which represent big business, not citizens, and tend to prioritise new road projects over other forms of transport. The cost of driving, including purchasing a vehicle, has fallen by 20% since 1980, while rail fares have risen by 63% in the same period and bus and coach fares are up by 64%. This situation must be reversed if we are to address the twin crises of pollution and climate change.
  9. Incentivise councils, developers and businesses to include soft landscaping in redevelopment projects. Grass, plants and well placed trees can significantly improve air quality. Tree budgets have often been one of the first things to go in local authority budget cuts – yet there is strong evidence that street trees are good for the economy as well as air quality, flood prevention, carbon sequestration and health and wellbeing. Along with properly funded local government, better understanding of the benefits of trees could help protect them in our cities and elsewhere.
  10. Support local authorities to create a comprehensive network of electric vehicle charging points by 2025. While priority should be given to public transport, electric or other low-emission vehicles need to become the obvious choice for those who need a private car. Existing grants for electric vehicles and charging points should be more widely publicised, for example in workplaces.

You can read the government’s plans here and our full response here. Tomorrow is the last day to respond to the consultation – ClientEarth, who took the government to court over its last version of the plans, have created a tool to help you have your say quickly and easily here.

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