Fresh approach needed to clean up the lethal air we breathe
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