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Roads to Nowhere

It's time for a new Clean Air Act

Bridget Fox's picture

We all know that air quality is getting worse, and why: more vehicles emitting more pollution, putting health and lives at risk.

The challenge is no longer to raise awareness or to debate the issue but to get action. That's why we need a new Clean Air Act for the 21st century.

Some action is underway. Highways England has set aside a £100M fund to improve air quality on the motorway and trunk road network. The new Rail Freight Strategy highlights the pollution busting benefits of moving goods by rail instead of road. London is starting to implement an Ultra Low Emission Zone, and other cities are planning Clean Air Zones.

Individual local authorities are already taking action ranging from clampdowns on vehicle idling to promoting electric cars or tackling the school run. The new round of Air Quality Grants will help more local councils to act.

The Bus Services Bill will allow local authorities to specify cleaner, greener vehicles for their area. The Access Fund is helping councils link people to jobs by improving opportunities for walking and cycling.

While all these steps are important, they still represent a piecemeal approach.

Across the country, we are still seeing billions spent on new roads that will inevitably increase traffic and pollution. There is a massive missed opportunity to include pollution-related charges in proposals for new Severn Crossing tolls.

Relying on electric vehicles to save the day ignores the challenges of sustaining a charging network, finding kerb space for charging points in our crowded cities, let alone a viable electric option for HGVs. And going electric won’t solve other problems of congestion and obesity.

We need not just newer vehicles, but fewer.

Ahead of the forthcoming Budget, we're calling for a diesel scrappage scheme to help people who own the most polluting vehicles to replace them. One option could be to fund this from a higher tax on new diesel purchases. We say any scrappage scheme must be smart and help solve problems of traffic congestion and wider public health: that means including options to swap vehicles for season tickets, e-bikes, car club memberships or other greener alternatives.

Client Earth's legal victories have helped force the pace of Government action, with draft Clean Air Zone guidance issued last year, and an updated action plan required by July. There are many good ideas in the guidance, from travel planning to greener fleets, but nothing on diesel bans or scrappage: a comprehensive solution is missing.

That’s why we need a new Clean Air Act.

The Clean Air Act Campaign, which Campaign for Better Transport is backing, has three demands:

  • Speed up the move to low emission transport
  • Enshrine the right to clean air in law
  • Invest in clean tech for a sustainable future.

We're not alone: two thirds of people polled support the Act, and three out of four think the Prime Minister has a moral duty to take action. Organisations including the British Lung FoundationCIWEM, and Sustrans have joined us in backing the Act.

Every community deserves clean air. A new Clean Air Act will help ensure that happens.

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