Leicester Mercury

Greens dismayed to see city clean air zone axed


LEICESTER Green Party is deeply concerned to learn that, on the strength of 2020 figures, the city council is no longer planning to introduce a clean air zone, as it is “not needed”. If only this were the case!

That this news appeared while COP26 was continuing, and a month after the World Health Organisati­on (WHO) introduced new air quality guidelines, which the city is nowhere near meeting, is deeply disquietin­g.

Councillor Adam Clarke might be proud to see nitrogen dioxice (NO2) levels hovering around 40 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3), but he is no doubt aware that WHO guidelines now set a limit of a quarter of this, at 10Ug/m3.

What are the WHO air quality guidelines? Well, they are based on expert evaluation of current scientific evidence, which has shown how dangerous high levels are.

In real terms, in Leicester today, children are being born and going to school in toxic hot spots, and we are still one of the most polluted cities in the country. Anyone who travels on our roads can see congestion and pollution levels are now similar or even worse than pre-pandemic levels.

Indeed, a recent study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found that: “The new data shows that the number of avoidable deaths is much higher if the new WHO reference levels are adopted as targets.

“This effect is much more noticeable in the case of NO2. Among the cities with the highest mortality attributab­le to this pollutant, Madrid would go from avoiding 206 annual deaths if the old WHO recommenda­tions were met to avoiding 1,966 using the new targets.”

While our readings in 2020 were slightly below EU legal limits, readers will be keenly aware that traffic use decreased significan­tly in that period – not necessaril­y from local council strategy, as Coun Clarke suggests, but rather from the global pandemic and lockdown.

With traffic again beginning to increase, we need to ask is it a real cause to celebrate? Even with the pandemic, we remain far above revised WHO limits. Are the figures really a true reflection of pollution in Leicester?

We all lose from this, as analysis by Birmingham shows that it expects to gain £50 million in health and environmen­tal savings in one year from its clean air zone, from fewer hospital admissions, reduced emissions, higher productivi­ty and fewer mortalitie­s.

It’s not just us saying this, as charities Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation want to see clean air zones extended to other Midlands cities, too.

Clean air is a basic human right, and Leicester needs a clean air zone.

Stalling on this will just delay vital action on air pollution yet further and lead to preventabl­e hospital admissions and worse.

Mags Lewis, Leicester Green Party

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