Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle highlights air quality as key focus of Labour’s environmental policy ahead of 2015 election
Labour has committed to delivering a national framework for low emission zones (LEZs) to help councils tackle air pollution if it wins the general election next year, shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle announced this week.
Labour’s proposal for a national framework is aimed at helping more urban areas in the UK to implement low emission zones and echoes calls made by several air quality experts and campaigners at a recent parliamentary committee inquiry hearing (see airqualitynews.com story).
LEZs, like that which operates in central London, generally require drivers of vehicles which do not meet specified standards for exhaust pollutants to pay a charge to travel in the zone.
Speaking at environmental organisation WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature)’s headquarters in Woking yesterday (August 11), the Labour MP for Wallasey outlined various environmental policies ahead of the 2015 election and highlighted a particular focus on air quality issues.
The UK, she told the audience, currently has “one of the worst records of any European country for exceeding EU air pollution limitsâ€?, stating that 93% of UK zones for assessing pollution levels exceed these limits.
And, Ms Eagle said the government had “no strategy for tackling air pollution at allâ€?, adding that the problem is “crying out for government actionâ€?.
A Labour government, she said, would deliver a “national framework for low emission zones to enable local authorities to encourage cleaner, greener, less polluting vehicles to begin to tackle this problemâ€?.
With many councils, including Brighton and Birmingham, already exploring the potential of implementing LEZs to help tackle traffic pollution, Labour’s proposed framework would act as a guide of sorts to help urban councils in the UK put such zones into action.
Although few further details have been given, it is understood that the framework would likely include minimum air quality standards to deliver consistency across the UK, with the aim of bringing certain regions into compliance with EU nitrogen dioxide limits much sooner than Defra’s current forecast of 2030 at the earliest.
Ms Eagle said: “Many local authorities already wish to implement various forms of low emission zones in their respective geographical areas but are being discouraged because there is no such framework.â€?
She explained that Labour would “consult with businesses, NGOs and local authorities on what this framework should look like and how best to deliver itâ€?.
As part of this, she said Labour would “assess the effectiveness of the current low emission zone in London – which covers just 7% of the capital’s most polluted roadsâ€?.
The shadow environment secretary was also keen to emphasise councils’ role in tackling air pollution, stating that “unlike this Tory-led governmentâ€?, Labour would “devolve the power, not just the responsibility, for local authorities willing to take action against air pollutionâ€?.
But, while the current government has consistently suggested it could force councils in England to having to pay the UK’s potential EU fines for not meeting air quality limits – a position branded “unfairâ€? by London Councils (see airqualitynews.com story) – Labour has said it would not pass any such fines on to local authorities.
Ms Eagle said: “The Labour Party recognises that people simply cannot afford to move further away from areas of high air pollution and shouldn’t be expected to do so.
“We believe that everyone should have the right to breathe clean air- but it is the responsibility of central Government- not just the responsibility of Local Authorities to tackle the causes of air pollution.â€?