A right to clean air and the cost of bus lanes were discussed at the annual Care4Air conference in South Yorkshire
Doncaster Mayor Peter Davies gave last week’s Care4 Air Clearer Future Conference a controversial opening by attacking the provision of bus quality corridors in the Yorkshire town.
After welcoming 98 delegates to the one day event held in Doncaster’s Mansion House, the Mayor, who is one of England’s few elected mayor’s and is a member of the English Democrats political party, criticised the authority’s previous policy of introducing bus quality corridors. He noted that this had seen the BBC reporting “the cost of getting a car off the road into using park and ride schemes at £95,000 per carâ€?.
Mr Davies said that the person responsible for the scheme had now “leftâ€? the authority and the programme of bus quality corridors was being reversed. However, he welcomed the conference which formed the annual event of Care4Air, the South Yorkshire Clean Air Campaign.
The comments made by the Mayor were to prompt some sharp reaction from delegates. One local authority officer said: “What can we do when there is a call for economic development and a desire to use cars as well as councillors who are looking for safety in terms of their positions ahead of elections.â€?
And, Alex Bywaters, a senior official with the Highways Agency, questioned whether abandoning the measures would cause more traffic on Highways Agency roads. “What plans are there for local authorities to be directly accountable for their actions?â€?
Robert Vaughan, a Defra air quality official present, remarked that his Department “would want all parties to work together. It is important to remember that local authorities only have some of the powers involved with roads and it is important for each party to quality their roles.â€?
The Mayor’s address was followed by a presentation from the former GMTV weather presenter Clare Nasir, who is now a campaign ambassador for the Health Air Campaign.
The campaign is backed by a number of NGOs and advised by Professor Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King’s College London.Ms Nasir hit out at the “government’s inaction over air qualityâ€? saying that “nothing had changed four years on from the 2008 when the Environmental Audit Committee found that 29,000 people “die prematurely because of the air they breatheâ€?.
“Hundreds of thousands of families across Britain have no choice and continue to live near high polluting traffic volumes every day,â€? she said. And, Ms Nasir emphasised that while the Secretary of State for the Environment Caroline Spelman knows about air quality issues, there was a need for more action.
She said: “Isn’t it time that Caroline Spelman matched her awareness with action on the subject. She seemingly will be ready to accept fines for poor air quality.â€?
Ms Nasir was referring to a bid by the legal campaign group ClientEarth which has been attempting to get the UK courts to require the government to speed up its air quality measures to ensure that the UK was fully compliant with European directive requirements.
A court case between ClientEarth and Defra was coincidentally taking place in London on Wednesday May 30, the same day as the Doncaster conference.
Karla Hill, who speaks on air quality for ClientEarth travelled to Doncaster to outline to delegates the rationale for the court case. She said; “We believe that it is very important to enforce and comply with the standards that apply.â€?Karla Hill of ClientEarth spoke of the individual’s right to breathe clean air
And, she explained that ClientEarth is “working with a number of organisations to raise awareness and get better action on air quality.â€?
Ms Hill said that Client Earth believed that there should be a “sense of an individual right to breathe clean air – it is an evolving right to be able to walk around and not be subject to air pollution.â€?
She said that ClientEarth felt that faced with “long term breachesâ€? of European regulations action was justified against the government, although she conceded it “comes down to some fine legal argument.
“Our interpretation is that 2015 is the maximum deadline possible and 17 air quality plans will not achieve compliances until after 2015 and most of these not until 2020 with London not until 2025.â€?
(ClientEarth lost the appeal on 30 May but is proposing a further appeal: see AirQualityNews story).
The Care4Air conference also heard from other speakers including Robert Vaughan of Defra – click here