(Title Image: Express)
Yesterday, the Energy, Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), updated AMs on measures the Welsh Government were taking to address air pollution.
The most serious environmental health risk we face
The Minister reminded AMs that air pollution has a much-highlighted impact on children and people with underlying health conditions.
Back in January, the Minister said temporary 50mph limits (at M4 Port Talbot, A470 Pontypridd, M4 Newport, A483 Wrexham and A494 Deeside) would be kept for as long as they’re deemed necessary. Yesterday, she confirmed they’ll be made permanent.
“I am pleased to announce that 50mph speed limits will be in place on a permanent basis across all five sites by the middle of July. We will be enhancing communications around the reason for the speed restrictions and providing new permanent traffic sign layouts at all sites so that the public is aware of the importance of these measures.”
– Energy, Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths
The Minister added that she’s received proposals from Cardiff and Caerphilly councils on measures to meet nitrogen dioxide limits. The Welsh Government also recently announced a £30million investment in active travel and “has an ambition” for all buses and taxis to be low- emission by 2028. A Clean Air Act is also on the table.
Shadow Environment Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), said this was an area Wales had to make serious progress in due to the estimated 2,000 excess deaths each year caused by air pollution. He somewhat sarcastically suggested that driving at 50mph would be “a dream” for many people on the M4 due to congestion.
He suggested the Welsh Government should consider using World Health Organization standards for air pollution (as opposed to EU standards) when developing a Clean Air Act; the Minister agreed to look at it as WHO standards were 50% more stringent than the EU.
Action driven by citizens
“….the reason it’s been driven so hard over the last decade is because of groups like ClientEarth and others, who have been able to bring actions against UK Government….Can we have that guarantee, going forward…..that citizens or citizens’ organisations can hold governments to account to ensure…. take them to court, sue them and force their hand to deal with this epidemic, now, that is right across the UK?”
– Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore)
Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) was disappointed that this was largely a repetition of previous announcements, with vague timetables and no new detail on the proposed Clean Air Act. The Minister was equally disappointed by Llyr’s response – he had to accept there were constraints on the amount of legislation Ministers can table each year.
Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) asked for the Minister to consider banning new waste incinerators and banning people from burning waste in gardens. Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) argued that people might be more supportive of 50mph limits if they knew why they were there.
Not for the first time, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) made the case for 20mph limits to be introduced in urban areas to encourage active travel and also for someone to take the lead at a national level to encourage more walking and cycling to school; it can’t be left to individual schools or local authorities – later echoed by Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central). He also made the case for taxis to convert to LPG – a move he said would repay itself over a few years.