Time to clean up our act on air pollution in Leeds

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ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners are today calling for more action to be taken – including charges for high polluting vehicles – to combat deadly air pollution in Leeds.

Leeds is one of five cities ordered by the Government to introduce Clean Air Zones by 2020.

Leeds City Council said today – National Clean Air Day – that the local authority has launched a range of measures to tackle air quality in the city.

Measures include encouraging greater use of public transport with major investments in bus and rail infrastructure including new rail stations and park and ride facilities as part of new £270m transport strategy.

Friends of the Earth says Leeds and Wakefield are among seven local authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber which would still have illegal levels of air pollution in 2019, without further action being taken.

The group said Leeds would still have illegal levels of air pollution in 2026 and Wakefield in 2020. Friends of the Earth said in 2010 there were 350 early deaths attributable to air quality in Leeds and 178 in Wakefield.

It is calling for charging Clean Air Zones to be introduced by the end of 2018 in 58 local authorities including Leeds and Wakefield to restrict the worst polluting vehicles from areas with illegal air pollution.

Oliver Hayes, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said: “Fresh analysis of the government’s own data reveals the staggering scale of this public health crisis.

“People in Leeds would be breathing toxic air for the next nine years without further action. The current plans for cleaning up our air are shamefully inadequate. With 40,000 early deaths each year from air pollution, and children’s young lungs especially vulnerable, this is a sickening amount of suffering – much of which could be prevented.

“The government must do far more to protect the public’s lungs from this pollution, including urgently introducing Clean Air Zones by the end of 2018 for everywhere which would otherwise have illegally dirty air.”

Anne Schiffer, Friends of the Earth Leeds campaigner, said: “In Yorkshire and the Humber alone, over 2,500 people die early each year due to air pollution.

“The air we breathe is literally killing us. It is pathetic that successive governments have failed to take on air pollution and have condemned people from Sheffield to Leeds to worsened asthma, heart disease, and early death.

“We’re calling on MPs across Yorkshire and the Humber to stand up for our right to clean air. That means working together to bring in Clean Air Zones in places like Leeds, and demanding that the government commits to continued action.”

Clean Air Zone areas will discourage older, higher emission vehicles from operating in city centres while encouraging replacement of these vehicles with newer, cleaner ones. Leeds is in the Class C action category, meaning it must impose new regulations for buses, coaches, taxis, HGVs and light good vehicles. Sustainable travel campaign group Greener Journeys said increasing congestion means average traffic speeds in Leeds will fall from 23.6mph to 17mph by 2030 as road delays double.

Coun Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member with responsibility for sustainability and environment said: “National Clean Air Day is a fantastic way for the city as a whole to show its support to improving air quality in Leeds. Small or big changes to way we travel could and will have a huge impact on this and it is great to see the level of support already for this day of action.

“Improving air quality presents a huge challenge for the city, but as a council we are fully committed to tackling this issue and are already working with partners in the city to tackle and combat air pollution head on. Thursday offers us the chance to get the conversation started with members of the public and really start to increase awareness of the issues, but also what can be done to make a big difference.

“Leeds has been identified as needing to introduce a Clean Air Zone by the end of 2019, and therefore we are aware of the work that needs to take place to really get the ball moving on improving air quality in the city. We are currently undertaking detailed analysis and modelling of air quality around the city to see what a potential Clean Air Zone might look like and will be bringing a paper to executive board later this year with the results of all the analysis and recommendations moving forward.”

Leeds is going green for the UK’s first ever National Clean Air Day today.

Co-ordinated by environmental change charity Global Action Plan and funded by Defra, the day will see schools, hospitals and communities across Leeds, Birmingham, Derby, Manchester, Southampton and Nottingham run events and raise awareness about air quality and health.

Children from Kirkstall Valley Primary School were due to take part a ‘Park and Stride event’ this morning.

A ‘car garden’ has been created in front of the Black Prince statue in City Square in Leeds.

And people will be asked to pledge one thing they can do to improve air quality at a large grass covered pledge wall in City Square.

Council chiefs in Leeds have been encouraging people to pledge to leave their cars at home and get on the bus or train or walk or cycle into work today.

Drivers should remind Leeds City Council that charging zones should be a “last resort,” according to motoring association The AA.

Jack Cousens, a roads policy spokesman for the AA, said “Air quality is important to our members, with 80 per cent saying that air quality is important to them. Leeds was one of the original five cities tasked with implementing a Clean Air Zone, so it will be interesting to see what actions the council takes to help curb air pollution.

“A congestion charge similar to London might well be considered, but drivers should remind the council that the Government has made it very clear that a charging zone is the point of last resort, rather than the position of first response. With three fifths of drivers saying that they see such zones as money making schemes for councils, alternative options will need to be considered first. There is no silver bullet, so it will take a variety of actions to help improve the air quality in Leeds.”

Mr Cousens added: “There are some steps Leeds council could take, for example retrofitting or replacing the worst polluting buses and taxis, as well as re-engineering road layouts to keep traffic moving should improve air quality.

“Nationally, three quarters of AA members would like the government to consider a diesel scrappage scheme.”

Coun Maureen Cummings, Wakefield Council’s cabinet member for environment and communities said: “We fully support National Clean Air Day which provides an opportunity for everyone to think about the air we breathe and to really value this basic requirement for a healthy life.

“Everyone has a part to play and little changes in our daily lives can collectively make a big difference and improve the air that we breathe. We encourage people to visit the Clean Air Day web-site for some practical ideas on how to contribute to making our environment better for everyone – visit https://www.cleanairday.org.uk/.”