Labour’s shadow transport minister, Rachael Maskell, has accused the government of taking a ‘minimalist’ approach to tackling poor air quality in the UK.
Speaking to airqualitynews.com at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton this week, the shadow minister, who has also previously held the Party’s environment portfolio, criticised the government’s Air Quality Plan, published in July (see airqualitynews.com story).
The York Central MP, also slammed the government for a lack of ‘strategic oversight’ in its transport policy in relation to air pollution.
Commenting on the air quality plan, she said: “It’s massively lacking, in fact I couldn’t call it an air quality plan at all. First of all, the reason that we have got poor air quality is that there isn’t strategic oversight of what’s happening in our country whether across industry or whether across transport.â€?
She added that funding for public transport systems, for example, would need to be greatly improved if government is to increase the number of people taking alternative modes of transport than passenger cars.
Ms Maskell, said: “If we’re going to get really serious about this we need to think about people’s behaviour around travel, how we try to drive alternatives – so the whole issue of cycling and walking should be central to drive that through.
“Also, to try and move people out of their personal vehicles and into public transport, we don’t do that by evolution, we do that by positive change and I just don’t think we are seeing the commitment because at the same time we are seeing bus routes being cut, rural access is incredibly poor.
The shadow transport minister claimed that other areas of transport policy have failed to take into considerations around public travel, adding: “Even in new developments, so in HS2, and I have been very critical of this, creating parkway stations as opposed to where people gather, move and live. I think we need to think about how people are moving around the country and how we facilitate good clean mechanisms of doing that.“
She added: “With the air quality plan I think that the government is looking incredibly minimalistic at what the opportunities are, there was no great announcements around industry, nothing about the rest of the transport system.
“I would say local government is a major partner in this, they need money to be able to make this happen and if you keep slashing their budgets as the government has planned clearly there is not going to be any movement on this. I think that local government often wants to [act] but can’t because it just has no money anymore.â€?
During the conference, the Shadow Transport Minister also spoke at a fringe session organised by Labour’s Environment Campaign group SERA – at which she reiterated the commitment made by the Party during the General Election to introduce a Clean Air Act if in government.
Expanding on this pledge, she said: “Clearly the whole link between local and national government in creating new clean air zones is a vital part of that and cleaning up the transport system as the two major pillars of what has to happen. But, the reality is that we have to have a discussion with industry about how we improve their contribution to climate change.
“It’s so minimalistic and we are never going to reach our climate change obligations if we take these minimal steps. One of the things I am trying to look at is how do we utilise our transport system to maximise green energy generation. Electrification as an example, fantastic, get rid of that diesel is essential but it is going to draw a lot of energy, so how are going to generate the energy that it wants to draw.â€?