An MP's private member's Bill on air quality in urban areas is to get a second reading on 4th March. The Bill – by Geraint Davies, the Labour/Co-operative MP for Swansea West – stands little chance of doing anything other than raise the issue in parliament but it joins a growing clamour for action to be taken on an invisible killer.
Last week saw the publication of a joint report by the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health urging more people to cycle or walk instead of driving, and also calling for local authorities to close or divert roads to reduce the volume of traffic, especially near schools when air pollution is high. In many of the UK's cities this is "all of the time."
The Air Quality (Diesel Emissions in Urban Centres) Bill wants the government to set vehicle emissions targets and make sure testing reflects on-road driving conditions. It also wants the creation of low diesel-emissions zones and pedestrian-only areas and to restrict the use of roads in urban centres by diesel vehicles.
"The invisible hand of diesel fumes is prematurely killing some 1,000 people per week in the UK. The Bill is designed to put the death-by-diesel epidemic into reverse, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds.
"The Bill is supported by those organisations, the British Lung Foundation and the British Heart Foundation because, as is becoming increasingly apparent to all of us, air pollution is killing people through lung cancer, through lung diseases such as bronchitis and asthma, and through strokes, heart attacks and heart disease. It is also linked to diabetes, obesity and dementia. It is a public health disaster. In the UK, it is causing the loss of some 6 million working days a year and costing our economy £20 billion a year. In Europe, it is costing the economy €240 billion a year and killing 380,000 people."
He added: "Children are nearer the ground, so they suffer more. The first duty of mothers and fathers is to protect their children, but they are unable to protect them from this awful, poisonous belching."
Davies said his Bill would also encourage the "development of green public transport, including tram systems such as the one I pioneered in Croydon when I was leader of the council. It encourages liquefied petroleum gas, hydrogen-powered or electric-powered buses and taxis, and that in turn encourages walking and cycling because there will be cleaner air and less congestion."
The MP is also calling for flood-style pollution warnings.
"The public have a right to know when they are at risk so that they can stay indoors, or roads can be closed because of excessive pollution."
He concluded: "We need the right signals so that we satisfy our fundamental ambition and duty to protect the lives of our citizens, and ensure that the air that we breathe in our cities is clean and that the lives we lead are sustainable."