Phelim Mac Cafferty: Robbed of any serious action on air quality

Phelim Mac Cafferty is the Green candidate for Hove SUS-170405-101701001
Phelim Mac Cafferty is the Green candidate for Hove SUS-170405-101701001

It might seem unbelievable to think that Brighton and Hove, a place doctors once recommended as a ‘place to take the sea air’ is now one of 40 UK cities breaching safe air pollution limits.

Areas of our city such as Western Road, Queens Road and Rottingdean High Street regularly exceed both UK and EU limits for nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas that along with other pollutants is primarily emitted by diesel vehicles. Across the UK, it is estimated that almost 40,000 deaths and other respiratory illnesses are the result of air pollution.

So when the Conservative Government published a ‘Clean Air Plan’ this week I was saddened to see they have failed yet again to take decisive action on this critical issue.

To pardon the pun, I wasn’t holding my breath – the last two air quality plans did so little to cut levels of nitrogen dioxide the high court judged them as ‘illegally poor.’

Yet despite calls for meaningful intervention, the 2017 plan is all talk but little action.

Hopes for the immediate introduction of ‘Clean Air Zones’, or a diesel scrappage scheme, have been dashed. After seven years of lobbying for a plan, environmental lawyers Client Earth have slammed the latest report as worthless.

This is unacceptable given that the rates of death and illness caused by air pollution are completely avoidable. Recent government reports also suggest the economic cost of UK air pollution is anywhere between £9 -19 billion.

In the six years that I have been a councillor the Green Group has fought hard to tackle this public health issue head on.

Working with the bus company, we retro-fitted buses with filters that clean up emissions, brought in 30 low emission minibus taxis, set up a ‘Low Emission Zone’ and just last month, were successful in pushing the Council to encourage alternatives to diesel vehicles.

The Green ‘Air Pollution Challenge,’ is our ambitious alternative to the Government plan, with measures such as compensatory diesel scrappage, better public transport and clean air zones.

As the Government fails to plan, Greens will not compromise on the air that we breathe.

Phelim Mac Cafferty is the convenor of the Greens on Brighton & Hove City Council.