The Labour party has launched a new campaign against air pollution, pledging to help local authorities tackle a crisis that, they say, causes the premature death of 29,000 Britons each year.
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Speaking at a London primary school on Wednesday, shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle criticised the government’s record on air pollution.
She accused the Tories, London mayor Boris Johnson in particular, of complacency, promising that a Labour government would devolve the powers needed to improve air quality to local authorities.
The announcement comes while London, alongside other UK cities, is under pressure from the EU for failing to meet air quality standards.
Harmful pollutants are mostly made up of particulate matter emitted by transport or industrial processes. Health experts have warned that such pollutants can cause cancer, asthma and heart disease.
“The facts about our air pollution are truly shocking,” Eagle said.
“5% of deaths in the UK each year can be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution. That is 29,000 deaths every year. Over 3,000 of those deaths are in London where the problem is particularly pronounced.”
To address air pollution, Eagle said that her party would deliver a national framework for Low Emission Zones, which would allow local authorities to encourage the use of cleaner, less-polluting vehicles.
Currently, though many local authorities want to tackle the issue, they do not have the necessary powers, she claimed.
Legislation introduced in 2011 also means that it is the local authorities that must foot the bill when the EU issues fines for missed air quality targets.
“Unlike this Tory-led government the Labour party will devolve the power, not just the responsibility, for local authorities willing take action against air pollution,” Eagle said.
“I believe that everyone should have the right to breathe clean air – but it is the responsibility of central government, not just the responsibility of local authorities to tackle the causes of air pollution.”
In the coming weeks and months, Eagle said that Labour MPs, councillors and candidates would be reaching out to talk to their communities about the true scale of the air pollution crisis, and how it can be solved.
Much of the focus will be on the capital however, where the problem is particularly pronounced.
One recent study found that Oxford Street, one of London’s most popular shopping destinations, has the world’s highest concentrations of diesel fumes. Boris Johnson, who recently suggested that motorists be paid to scrap their more polluting diesel cars, called the finding “bollocks”.
Separate studies have also calculated that carbon-cutting policies, introduced to curb climate change, could deliver a net financial gain by slashing spending on pollution-related health problems.
According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution was responsible for the deaths of 3.7 million people under the age of 60 in 2012.