“News that the EU Commission intends to take legal action against the UK over poor air quality does not surprise me”, said Cllr Howard Sykes, Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council.
At February’s Council Meeting, Cllr Sykes asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jim McMahon, to endorse a proposal that they send a joint letter to the Environment. Secretary Owen Paterson MP, calling on the Government to abandon any plans to remove the legal obligation of local authorities to monitor air quality.
The Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollutants estimates that up to 29.000 deaths in the UK per year are attributable to poor air quality and that the World Health Organisation has recently classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans.
The EU says that levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are “excessive” in many British cities. This gas, which in the main is produced by diesel cars and trucks, can inflame the lining of the lungs and lead to major respiratory illnesses and premature deaths. It is of particular concern to people living in big cities near roadways and those suffering with asthma.
Cllr Sykes added: “Certainly in Shaw, Liberal Democrat ward members, being conscious of the ongoing impact of diesel fumes from the many HGVs that pass through our town en-route to and from local distribution centres, have campaigned long and hard for the installation of a station to monitor air quality. This campaign was recently rewarded when such a station was installed on Crompton Way.
Regrettably the UK has failed to comply with the European Union’s air pollution directive, which came into force in 2008. Britain was supposed to meet EU limits by 2010, but the government admits that Greater Manchester won’t achieve this standard until 2020.
The UK has been at risk of legal action from Europe ever since a Supreme Court ruling last year that the government was in breach of its obligations to reduce air pollution.
The legal process could ultimately end in the European Court of Justice where the UK would face huge fines if found in breach of the directive.
So the Government now needs to take drastic action to cut levels – especially as half of new cars that are sold are diesel-engined”.
One other option is to cut speed limits. At February’s Council, the Liberal Democrats proposed a motion to reduce the default speed limit on minor residential roads to 20 mph. This has been referred by Council for consideration by the Overview and Scrutiny Board.
The proposer of the motion, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Cllr John McCann added: “As well as reducing deaths and injuries, there is evidence from Germany that a reduction in speed limits can reduce NO2 by 10-15% on heavily polluted roads, so this is all the more reason for doing this”.
Lib Dem Motion to Council 5th February 2014
This Council notes that:
• speed limits on Britain’s residential roads are 60% higher than in Europe
• more than half of all road accident casualties occur on roads with 30mph limits
• reducing speed limits on residential roads has been found to reduce both the incidence of accidents and the numbers of fatalities and serious injuries that result
• new Department for Transport guidelines make it easier for local authorities to adopt a 20 mph default speed limit on residential roads
This Council therefore resolves to:
• Join the 20 other local authorities with over 11 million residents – including five Greater Manchester authorities – in seeking to implement a borough – wide 20 mph speed limit on residential roads (other than major roads) combined with a public information campaign
• Ask the Overview and Scrutiny Board to produce a report on the feasibility and timescale of introducing such a scheme, in consultation with the 20’s Plenty Campaign, for consideration by full Council at the earliest possible opportunity
Question from the Leader of the Opposition to the Council Leader, Council 5th February 2014
Monitoring Air Quality:
As one of the foremost cotton towns, with a continued legacy amongst our citizens of poor respiratory and cardio-vascular health, we must all recognise the importance of clean air to the well-being of the residents and wildlife of this borough.
Certainly in Shaw and Crompton, ward members, being conscious of the ongoing impact of diesel fumes from the many HGVs that pass through our ward, en-route to and from local distribution centres, have campaigned long and hard for the installation of a station to monitor air quality. This campaign was recently rewarded when such a station was installed on Crompton Way.
Councillors may be unaware that the Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollutants estimates that up to 29.000 deaths in the UK per year are attributable to poor air quality and that the World Health Organisation has recently classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans.
I was therefore recently concerned to hear of a suggestion by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the legal obligation be removed from local authorities to monitor air quality.
I am sure that the Leader will want to join me in seeking to maintain our Council’s commitment to carrying out these checks, and to continue to participate in the work of the Greater Manchester Air Quality Network, so can I invite him to join me (and the other group leader on Oldham Council) in sending a joint letter to the Minister expressing our concern over this issue?