Government given red card for failing to tackle UK's toxic air

'Saharan smog' settling over London earlier this year.
'Saharan smog' settling over London earlier this year.
Adam Bienkov By

The government has been handed a 'red card' by MPs over its failure to tackle rising levels of air pollution across the UK.

Air pollution contributes to thousands of deaths across the country every year, but government promises to tackle the problem are failing, according to a new report by the environmental audit committee (EAC).

Levels of harmful pollutants in the air have increased since the coalition government was formed in 2010, despite being in decline prior to that.

"A whole generation of young people in our cities will potentially have their health impaired by pollution before the government meets air quality safety standards," committee chair Joan Walley MP said.


"That is not acceptable. We need to see much more urgent action in this area and we will be looking at this area in more detail when we publish the results of our inquiry later this year."

The UK is currently under threat of massive EU fines for failing to tackle rising air pollution.

The problem hit the headlines earlier this year when the so-called 'Saharan smog' settled over London for the best part of a week.

Londoners were advised to avoid strenuous exercise and many reported increases in breathing difficulties.

However, London Mayor Boris Johnson dismissed air quality in the capital during the episode as "perfectly fine."

A report commissioned by the mayor released last week found that levels of NO2 linked to diesel fumes, were almost as bad as levels found in Beijing and Shanghai.

Campaigners have called on Johnson to cancel his planned road-building projects to deal with the problem.

"If the mayor was serious about cutting air pollution, he would be scrapping his road-building programme and expanding public transport connections between east and south-east London so residents did not have to resort to their cars to make relatively short journeys," campaigner against the mayor's plans to build the Silvertown Tunnel road link, Darryl Chamberlain told Politics.co.uk.

However, last week the mayor insisted that he had no plans to cancel his planned road building projects.

"I am not aware of any such evidence [that road building increases pollution] and in my view it is very unlikely to be a reason for blocking a road development," he told the EAC.

"What we want to do is improve the quality of the technology so that the emissions are radically reduced, and we have all sorts of plans to do that.

"That is the best way forward. I am not of the general party that thinks we should stop all road building as a way of reducing pollution. That seems to me to be a false assumption."

The committee's report also found that flood prevention and wildlife protection had got worse under the coalition government.

In a damning assessment they also judged that the coalition were making "unsatisfactory progress" on emissions and climate change, forest protection, soils, resource efficiency and waste, freshwater environment, water availability and the marine environment.

"Our environment is deteriorating when it should be improving," Labour shadow environment minister Barry Gardiner said today.

"David Cameron promised to lead the 'greenest government ever' but the past four and a half years have been a disaster for the environment."

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