“Action, not words” needed to address air pollution

(Title Image: ITV Wales)

I’ve lost count of the number of times AMs have debated air pollution and a Clean Air Act, but each time the issue has been raised it’s been done so with an ever-increasing sense of urgency.

The Motion (Final/Amended Version)

The Senedd:

  • Believes air pollution is a public health crisis, which contributes to an estimated 2,000 deaths a year in Wales and further notes that exacerbates existing lung conditions and that the long-term impacts of poor air quality are not yet fully understood.
  • Calls for a new national air pollution monitoring network that complements Wales’ existing monitoring capabilities.
  • Calls for a Clean Air Act and for Welsh Government and UK Government to take decisive action to strengthen all measures to give communities the right to have pollution-monitoring equipment outside schools and hospitals; create infrastructure that would enable local authorities to introduce pollution and congestion charges; reform the planning process to require the impact of a development on air pollution to be given greater weight; accelerate the transition to electric transport so that petrol and diesel cars are phased out by 2030.

Inadequate and complacent government response

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) described the Welsh Government’s response to air pollution to date as “completely inadequate”. He compared air pollution (somewhat topically) to a virus; in those circumstances we would be looking for a solution overnight, but there remains a conflict between economic demands and the environment.

The latter point was echoed by Shadow Environment Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), who was sure that in any other circumstances where 2,000 excess deaths a year were happening, politicians would get to work right away.

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) pointed out that while the focus is on excess deaths, those with chronic diseases (caused at least in part by air pollution shouldn’t be forgotten either). Air pollution monitoring was lax; Kronospan in Chirk has had roughly one major fire a year for the last 18 years yet there’s hardly any air pollution monitoring nearby meaning local residents get late warnings.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) suggested vehicle exclusion zones around schools to prevent parents from taking children by car – which makes air pollution and congestion problems worse.

“….going back in history, we’ve had original clean air Acts before. They reflected the suffocating fatal smogs and pea soupers in London in 1952 and other large cities in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Legislation then followed to produce smokeless fuels. Obviously, the air cleaned, i.e. the air became clear, but there’s still pollution there; the difference now is that we can’t see it.”
– Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West)

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) believed that while the Welsh Government’s lack of action was a damning indictment, councils had a poor track record too. At Hafodyrynys in Caerphilly, a terraced row on the most polluted road in Wales will be demolished, while Bridgend Council approved a new development next to an air quality management zone; “Clearly, the Welsh Government needs to take decisive action on this, rather than having yet more consultations.”

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) warned that people who bought diesel vehicles due to a Labour UK government push have been later penalised with higher taxes.

Dr Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) focused on the practical issues, including the relatively high cost of ongoing pollution monitoring and the poor state of public transport – which goes far beyond a Clean Air Act and requires a whole suite of measures to address. Even banning idling cars outside schools wouldn’t help much as Public Health Wales told him the act of turning a car on produces as much pollution as idling.

Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) blamed overdevelopment and the planning system, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) spoke of the need to increase walking and cycling, while Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) said the UK Government had to come forward with more concrete plans to phase-out petrol and diesel vehicles.

Work continues towards a Clean Air Act

Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), agreed with some things, but not with others. Pollution monitoring was due to increase over the next two years and preliminary work continues on a promised Clean Air Act.

There were several other pieces of work due to be published in the coming months too:

“I will shortly publish a clean air zone framework for Wales to set out how we believe clean air zones should be implemented in Wales. Later in the year, my colleague the Minister for Economy and Transport will also publish a separate report on the costs and benefits of introducing road-user charging on a regional basis to ensure we take a fair and consistent approach to reduce people’s exposure to air pollution from road traffic. And, in addition, we intend to publish a charging strategy for Wales in 2020, which sets out the steps we will take to increase the provision of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

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