MP calls for action to tackle toxic air pollution
MP Bill Esterson has called on the Government to invest in cleaner, greener vehicles to avoid the "catastrophe" of toxic air pollution on the constituency's roads. The MP for Sefton Central, who has been a vocal critic of the decision by Highways England to build a road through Rimrose Valley to serve the Port of Liverpool, said if rail was not the answer to the issue of additional freight through the borough, then electric and hydrogen-powered cars and lorries must be.
The Government's "Road to Zero" strategy for cleaner road transport states that a voluntary commitment to reduce HGV emissions by 15 per cent by 2025 would be introduced, but the MP said that didn't go far enough.
Mr Esterson said: "Voluntary commitments are not enough. This is a public health crisis and air pollution in this country is a killer. Unless action is taken toxic air pollution will lead to catastrophe. Highways England are determined to build a road through Rimrose Valley. I will continue to oppose the building of this road. The Government should build a tunnel which would be far less polluting and they should improve the infrastructure so that more freight can go by rail. Inaction by the Government means these things are increasingly unlikely, so at the very least there should be a commitment to enforcing non-polluting vehicles. Electric and hydrogen-powered cars and lorries must be part of the answer."
The Government's Road to Zero strategy states: "We will reduce emissions from heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and road freight by: Introducing a new voluntary industry-supported commitment to reduce HGV greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2025, from 2015 levels; Launching a joint research project with Highways England to identify and assess zero emission technologies suitable for HGV traffic on the UK road network; Working with industry to develop an ultra low emission standard for trucks; Undertaking further emissions testing of the latest natural gas HGVs to gather evidence that will inform decisions on future government policy and support for natural gas as a potential near-term, lower emission fuel for HGVs."
Mr Esterson, who is also a Shadow Business Minister, spoke in the House of Commons (March 21) during Transport questions, and asked the Minister: "What steps is he taking to reduce transport emissions?"
Jesse Norman, Minister of State in the Department of Transport, responded: "We have set out clear plans within Government to reduce emissions across all transport modes. In my own area of responsibility, this includes last year’s “Road to Zero” strategy for road vehicles and, most recently, our future of mobility strategy specifically focused on creating cleaner and greener transport."
The "Future of mobility: urban strategy" outlines the government’s approach to transport innovation in cities and towns. It will guide the government’s response to emerging transport technologies and business models.
The report states that 18 per cent of transport greenhouse gas emissions come from HGVs. It said that while air quality has improved since 2010, air pollution remains the top environmental risk to human health in the UK, with road transport a major source, constituting 80% of nitrogen oxides concentrations at the roadside.
In Sefton, the council monitors air pollution to provide information on current pollution levels. There are five real-time monitoring stations around the borough. There are around 100 diffusion tubes measuring oxides of nitrogen and providing monthly average figures. High pollution levels in the borough recently led to an order from the Government for the authority to take steps to identify and tackle illegal levels of air pollution, but the High Court later ruled the plans "flawed" and "unlawful", and critics said only Government had the powers to implement the changes that are needed.
Mr Esterson said pollution was only set to increase with more freight coming through the Port of Liverpool.
In the Commons debate, Mr Esterson stated: "Nuclear, solar, tidal, offshore wind, onshore wind: all are forms of renewable energy that have been cut on this Government’s watch. Forty thousand people die prematurely each year as a result of poor air quality, and we all face the threat of climate change. This reckless approach to emissions must stop, so when are the Government going to end their reliance on fossil fuels and make the switch to electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles?"
The Minister Mr Norman responded: "The honourable Gentleman will know that many of the areas that he mentions - I say this as former Energy Minister - have been colossal successes. In the offshore wind industry, for example, the required levels of subsidy have fallen dramatically over time, as have the costs. As I said, we have the “Road to Zero” strategy. We also have the “Aviation 2050” Green Paper and the “Maritime 2050” strategy, all of which are designed to reduce emissions."
PIC: MP Bill Esterson in Rimrose Valley park where Highways England plan to build a new link road