A hazard that is invisible is one that people will generally choose to ignore, that’s just human nature. But when it comes to air pollution, that natural tendency is literally killing us.
Experts have been warning about a build-up of toxins in the atmosphere for years. Yet, it is only in recent years that the issue has begun to rise up the political agenda.
As a country, our response to air pollution has been lacklustre. That failure is of course most evident in the repeated breaches of legal air pollution limits. But it is no less manifest in the delay and lack of ambition that have characterised the Government’s approach to a National Air Quality Plan.
There is no question that improving air quality is a difficult undertaking and the causes and the potential solutions to the problem are complex, but neither can be an excuse for inaction. Air pollution is a public health crisis and it deserves a commensurate response from Government.
It is also an issue of social justice. No one is immune from the impact of toxins present in the air we breathe, but air pollution disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable among us. It’s children and the elderly who are most at risk, and minority ethnic and deprived communities that are hardest hard by this invisible killer.
Cleaning up the foul air so many of us breathe requires action from government. Despite the great work being done in towns and cities across the country, no one locality can solve this problem alone. This is the case not just because of the obvious fact that air pollution recognises no geographic boundaries, but because local air quality strategies will have to work in tandem with action at a national level if they are to be effective.
Of course, Brexit presents new challenges. But in seeking to ensure that the Government protects environmental regulation in the process of exiting the EU, there is a danger we come to view the defence of existing regulation as our sole objective. That would be a mistake. We must protect existing environmental regulation but we must also set our sights higher: an ambitious national air quality plan and a twenty-first century Clean Air Act. The moment to take responsibility is long overdue.
Since I was elected to Parliament in May 2015, I have campaigned tirelessly for more to be done, both nationally and locally, to clean up our toxic air. To that end, I established the first ever Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution to build cross-party support for bolder measures to improve air quality.
Shipping emissions, in the form of NOx, NO2 and Sulphur, are a major source of air pollution.
That’s why I’ve been fighting since day one, alongside the East Greenwich Residents Association, for a clean, green Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal – one that has the capacity to provide berthed ships with shore-to-ship electric power.
As your Member of Parliament, I wrote to each member of the Council’s Planning Board urging them to refuse the cruise liner terminal application or, at the very least, to postpone their decision to explore making shore-to-ship power a condition of granting planning permission. I was therefore deeply disappointed that the Board approved the proposals without modifications to protect local air quality.
In the period since the Board approved the plans, I have:
- Worked hard to raise public and media awareness about the air quality impact of a cruise liner terminal that does not have shore-to-ship
power provision, including by securing a debate in Parliament.
- Involved Government Ministers and London’s Deputy Mayor for the Environment and Energy in efforts to modify the proposals
- Striven to pressure the developers themselves to think again about moving ahead without additional air quality mitigation measures
I still believe we have a chance to secure a clean, green Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal by persuading the developers that the cost of pushing ahead without modifications is too high and I will continue to champion the interests of the community on this issue.