Cllr Claire Holland is the Cabinet Member for Environment and Clean Air, and a councillor in Oval Ward.
We know that London’s toxic air needs cleaning up. Nearly 10,000 Londoners a year die prematurely in part from toxic air. Research published in 2019 by Friends of the Earth shows that almost 500 parts of London are exceeding the legal limits for NO2.
And it is our vulnerable residents who are affected the most. Our very young and more disadvantaged communities. Research going back to 2003 has documented how poverty and demography are key factors in determining who is most negatively affected by our dirty air. Imperial College research in 2014 concluded that the highest concentration of our most polluted air is in the most deprived 20% of neighbourhoods. And the GLA data tells us that 20% of primary schools in London are located in areas that breached the limit for NO2.
Not cleaning up our air perpetuates inequality and chronic health conditions, with polluted air now being linked to dementia, low birth weight and type 2 diabetes. And it costs the NHS a staggering £3.7 billion per year.
Lambeth has been working with the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to clean up our air through a variety of different initiatives from green screens at schools on main roads to the Ultra Low Emission Zone and the clean bus corridor on the A23. But we could do so much more if we had government backing and proper funding. We have had our budget cut by 56% since 2010 which means real cuts of over £200 million as a result of the politically motivated austerity project of the Tories and the Tory/Lib Dem coalition. So we have to rely on invariably small and patchy funding streams to implement what we can. But this simply won’t cut it.
This Tory government has simply not prioritised cleaning up our air, or tackling the wider issue of climate injustice and seems content to continue as normal as thousands of people die prematurely each year. Instead, the Tory administration has been entirely focussed on using its executive powers for its own survival and pushing through a hard No Deal Brexit.
Our current legislative framework around clean air is based on EU directives. They have held our feet to the fire and pushed up our standards. And the government was dragged screaming through the courts just to come up with a strategy. It was the European court of Justice which ruled that the government UK must put in place a plan to achieve air quality limits in the “shortest time possible”. It was this that forced their hand to create a new national Clean Air Strategy, published in February 2019. The draft Environment Bill is now on hold and who knows if it will be in the Queen’s Speech, whenever that may be.
And whilst the statements of intent in the strategy and Bill are welcome, we need action. We need the funding to enable national and local agencies, health partners, businesses and local councils and communities to make a real difference.
And we need to continue to oppose Brexit and fight to remain in Europe. I am seriously concerned about what will happen when the UK does not have European partners driving up our standards and ambitions.
And crucially, that is why we need a Labour government. To bring in a Green New Deal, to clean up our air and tackle climate injustice. In Lambeth Labour, we are committed to a Green New Deal for Lambeth. To work with our environmental partners, trade unions and communities towards a just transition. To continue to invest in cleaner energy, to broaden access to walking, cycling and public transport for all.
So we will continue to campaign against a No Deal Brexit and to put the case for Remain. We need to advocate for our residents and particularly those who are affected most by the inaction of the right wing Tory government.
Cllr Claire Holland