Fresh ap­proach needed to clean up the lethal air we breathe

Birmingham Post - - AGENDA -

pol­lu­tion to still births, low birth weights and in­fant deaths.

If 900 Brum­mies were dy­ing be­cause they didn’t have ac­cess to clean wa­ter, there would be an outcry and a de­mand for im­me­di­ate ac­tion.

That was ex­actly the chal­lenge that faced our Vic­to­rian pre­de­ces­sors – and we need to be equally bold in tack­ling air pol­lu­tion in 21st cen­tury Birm­ing­ham.

No one or­gan­i­sa­tion, whether it’s the coun­cil, lo­cal busi­ness, the gov­ern­ment or ac­tive cit­i­zens, can fix this prob­lem on its own.

As the pub­lic watch­dog on health is­sues, the coun­cil’s Health Scrutiny Com­mit­tee has laid down a se­ries of chal­lenges to lo­cal and na­tional lead­ers – a list of things they need to be do­ing now to clean up Birm­ing­ham’s air.

The city coun­cil has a vi­tal role. As the elected voice of the peo­ple, it has to make it clear to ev­ery­one that clean air is a right and we ex­pect ev­ery sec­tor – pub­lic and pri­vate – to play their part in cut­ting pol­lu­tion. But it also needs to lead by ex­am­ple – us­ing its plan­ning pow­ers so that new devel­op­ments re­duce rather than add to pol­lu­tion; by pro­vid­ing proper in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic so they can make in­formed choices about trans­port and life­style; and by work­ing closely with schools to strengthen pro­tec­tion for our young peo­ple.

Our West Mid­lands Mayor has a re­spon­si­bil­ity too. I didn’t vote for Andy Street, but I wel­come his pub­lic state­ment that he wants to “get a grip of air pol­lu­tion”.

Now words need to be turned into ac­tion. So, we’re ask­ing him to work with us to get a joined-up ap­proach to traf­fic man­age­ment, to im­prove the qual­ity and avail­abil­ity of pub­lic trans­port and to speed up the in­tro­duc­tion of ul­tra low emis­sion buses across the re­gion.

Air pol­lu­tion doesn’t stop at the city bound­ary and nei­ther should our re­sponse.

Last, but by no means least, we need the gov­ern­ment to do its bit.

True, they ac­knowl­edge the need for ac­tion, but they need to put their money where their mouth is.

We know that one of the big­gest causes of air pol­lu­tion is the diesel en­gine.

What the gov­ern­ment needs to do is come up with diesel scrap­page schemes that don’t pass the costs on to those least able to pay and pe­nalise

If 900 Brum­mies were dy­ing be­cause they didn’t have ac­cess to clean wa­ter, there would be an outcry

al­ready hard-pressed fam­i­lies.

They also need to make sure that lo­cal coun­cils, al­ready buck­ling un­der the pres­sure of nearly a decade of sav­age spend­ing cuts, are prop­erly re­sourced to de­liver gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives like Clean Air Zones.

Ex­pect­ing us to pick up the tab on our own isn’t on.

Tack­ling air pol­lu­tion won’t be easy. It re­quires firm lead­er­ship and tough choices.

But the al­ter­na­tive is far worse. If we al­low the cur­rent lev­els of pol­lu­tion to per­sist, more peo­ple will die.

More peo­ple will strug­gle on with de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health. More chil­dren will suf­fer. We owe it to them, to our fam­i­lies and our friends, to act now. Coun­cil­lor John Cot­ton (Labour)

is chair­man of the Health and So­cial Care Over­view & Scrutiny

Com­mit­tee

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