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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:58 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth 8:58 pm, 28th October 2019

Constituents of all ages tell me of their concerns about the environment, climate change, plastics, waste and recycling, wildlife habitats and noise from planes, neighbours and cars. I see no mention of noise in the Bill, which is a worrying omission, but because of my limited time, I will focus on one issue of particular local concern, which is air quality.

Air pollution causes early deaths, with spikes of emergency calls and acute illness on days when it is bad. It is a major issue in my constituency, which has inadequate public transport and an over-dependence on car travel, with major roads running between London and Heathrow. More than 38 million people live in areas where air quality breaches legal limits, and my constituents are among them. Although there is not yet enough data, many of my constituents are concerned about the air pollution from aeroplanes.

The Central Office of Public Interest has a website with postcode links showing nitrogen dioxide air pollution levels, using data from Kings College London. The tool shows that my home in the middle of my constituency has significant air pollution from nitrogen dioxide, with an annual average of 36 micrograms per cubic metre, which is just under the World Health Organisation legal limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. This allegedly leads to an 11% increased risk of disease-related mortality for me and my family. By the way, here in Westminster we are exposed to almost 49 micrograms per cubic metre.

The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been taking the lead on air pollution. By taking action in introducing the ultra-low emission zone, we have seen a 35% cut in nitrogen dioxide emissions, with over 13,000 fewer polluting cars in central London. He has commissioned zero and low-emission buses for the fleet, which has seen a significant cut in NO2 emissions on Chiswick High Road. He has launched a £25 million car scrappage scheme so that individuals can trade in dirty and polluting vehicles. Owing to his package of air quality measures, the number of schools in London in illegally polluted areas will reduce from over 450 to zero by 2025.

If only we could see the Government take such a bold approach and not just leave it to local authorities, which, with this Bill, are faced with being required to do more with less money. One example the Government could follow to address both NO2 and fossil fuel emissions, as well as carbon emissions, would be to encourage a shift from fossil fuel to electric vehicles in a robust way. They could possibly could do even more to support people out of cars and on to e-bikes, as in France and Germany, where e-bike sales have shot through the roof.

However, this Environment Bill offers neither bold nor meaningful action to help my constituents. In this Bill, we have three years until targets must be set, and we have no binding commitments to match WHO guidelines, while the fine particulate PM 2.5 targets do not have to be met until 2037. On top of this, we have provisions that allow Ministers to brush aside air quality breaches. We need a Bill that protects environmental targets from being watered down in future. Leaving the EU removes a significant weapon for people to be able to take legal action against the Government, as has been done successfully in a number of air quality cases recently. We need a much bolder and more significant approach from the Government, and we need them to legislate for a legal right for everyone to be able to breathe clean air.