AMs back principle of Clean Air Zones



(Title Image: ITV Wales)

The Issue

Air pollution is one of Wales’ biggest hidden killers, with an estimated 2,000 excess deaths every year in Wales as a result of poor air quality.

The Welsh Government were successfully challenged in the High Court for a failure to do enough to tackle the problem, though some stop-gap measures have been introduced. The problem isn’t easy to solve due to Wales being home to many significant industrial air polluters (like Port Talbot steelworks).

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes that 21st June is Clean Air Day.
  • Notes the damaging impact of air pollution on our health—Public Health Wales figures show air pollution causes 2,000 deaths a year which is 6% of Wales’s total deaths.
  • Notes that nitrogen dioxide particulate matter must both be dealt with in order to combat air pollution.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to tackle persistent air pollution and introduce clean air zones to change behaviour and improve the health of citizens.

Key Points

Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)
For (the motion): We need a Clean Air Act.

  • Children exposed to air pollution are five times more likely to have poor lung development and an increased risk of infection.
  • There are five times more cancer-causing emissions in the 10% most deprived areas of Wales than in the 10% least deprived.
  • British Lung Foundation FOI request: only one school in Swansea had an air pollution monitor and none in Cardiff.
    There’s a clear argument in favour of a Clean Air Act and the introduction of clean air zones in polluted urban areas.
  • The First Minister said Wales “isn’t ready” to phase out fossil-fuel vehicles as early as 2030, but many mayors and civic leaders around the UK have said the exact same thing; hydrogen has the best potential for public transport at least (see also – State of Wales: The End of the Engine?).
  • One of the consequences of the London Clean Air Act was the production of clean-burning coal in the Cynon Valley, which generated the smoke there instead – that situation has to be avoided.

Gareth Bennett AM (UKIP, South Wales Central)
For (if amended): The planning system’s failed.

  • Schools are a major generator of peak time traffic, so more needs to be done to encourage schoolchildren to walk or cycle to school.
  • A failure of the planning system has seen too many developments on the edge of urban areas with poor public transport.
  • Large concentrations of fast food outlets with extractor fans have a noticeable impact of air quality in a local area.
  • Better alternatives to cars need to be provided first before clear air zones and alike can be introduced.

Shadow Environment Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)
For: There’s a lot to be done; we need to start now.

  • Cardiff and Port Talbot have higher levels of particulate air pollution than Birmingham and Manchester, while there’s the infamous road in Caerphilly county that’s more polluted than any in London.
  • The list of things that need to be done “is a very long one” encompassing energy generation, public and private transport and consumer choices.

Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North)
For: Active travel is vital.

  • There are 225 excess/premature deaths in the Cardiff & Vale health board every year alone due to air pollution.
  • Pleased at actions announced by the Welsh Government, but it’s down to individuals to make the real difference.
  • Big developments need to have public transport and walking/cycling built in right from the beginning.

John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East)
For: “Twenty’s plenty”

  • 20mph zones should be the default option in urban areas to make sure they’re walking and cycling friendly and better environments for children to play outdoors.

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
For: “If you tolerate this….”

  • Unborn children can be affected by their mother’s exposure to air pollution.
  • We didn’t tolerate unclean water and we shouldn’t tolerate unclean air; clean air laws put an end to “pea-souper” smogs in major British cities.

David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon)
Mixed-views

  • Port Talbot was wrongly described as the most polluted town in the UK; the statisticians got their figures wrong and pollution levels were actually closer to the average.
  • There are complications – we have to balance the environment with the economy and get major polluters like Tata to continue any good work they’ve already done.
  • We need to explore transport solutions for valleys and other places that don’t have railway lines or have been left of the Metro map.

Welsh Government Response

Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn)

  • Air pollution has been given a much higher priority in public health frameworks for the NHS and local authorities.
  • An air quality awareness campaign will be launched in schools to offer solutions like car sharing and no-idling outside schools.
  • Air monitoring kits have been sent to a number of schools and the results will be analysed, be sent back to the schools and children will be involved in developing solutions.
  • Technical Advice Note 11 (planning policy document) on noise pollution will be replaced with a new one on air quality and soundscape.
  • Clean air zones may not be appropriate outside urban areas will few alternative forms of transport to the car.

Vote

It should be noted that UKIP voted against because their amendment – which deleted a reference to “introducing clean air zones to change behaviour” and replaced it with a reference to providing cleaner forms of alternative transport – wasn’t agreed to. I don’t believe it suggests they disagreed with the thrust of the debate.

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