The government has been urged to reassess its air quality policy on the 60th anniversary of the UK’s Clean Air Act, which was brought in to tackle deadly smog in cities across the UK.
The call has come from the Liberal Democrats and environmental law firm Clientearth, both of whom have appealed to the government in light of the Act’s anniversary today (5 July).
Estimates from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health suggest that around 40,000 people die prematurely in the UK each year due to illnesses related to air pollution (see airqualitynews.com story) – which has led to intensified calls to improve air quality.
The government has been accused of failing in its obligation to protect public health and has twice been taken to the courts over its ‘inadequate’ plans to address air pollution – whilst concerns have also been raised that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU could see action on air quality side-lined in favour of other policy areas.
Critics of government policy have drawn parallels to the passing of the Clean Air Act, which was brought in 60 years ago today in response to London’s Great Smog of 1952, as an example of where government action has saved lives.
ClientEarth Chief Executive, James Thornton said: “Today marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark 1956 Clean Air Act. Sadly today, air pollution causes tens of thousands of early deaths every year and leaves many more seriously ill.
“Instead of making the same arguments against taking action that were made 60 years ago we need the government to wake up to our air pollution crisis. We need a new Clean Air Act to safeguard our legal protections and ensure our right to breathe clean air.â€?
The Liberal Democrats have also backed further government action on the issue, calling for the introduction of a new Act to tackle poor air quality and to ensure “vital pollution limits are not watered down post-Brexit.â€?
In a letter to Secretary of State for the Environment Elizabeth Truss – signed by the Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson Kate Parminter, Transport spokesperson Jenny Randerson, and MEP Catherine Bearder – the Liberal Democrats urge the government to ensure it follows through on agreements to tackle air pollution and enshrine essential limits into British law.
The letter says: “We urge you to ensure that in coming Brexit negotiations, the UK government follows through on EU agreements to tackle air pollution and enshrines essential limits into British law. Leaving the EU must not be used as a way to water down vital air quality legislation. Do not betray the legacy of the Clean Air Act by allowing the UK to become the dirty man of Europe once again. “