Air pressure - time for tough action to improve air quality
This is, of course, just a selection of the issues that I pick up or which are brought to me by constituents, and I don’t try to cover everything every month. If there’s something you would like to ask or tell me about, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, ring the office on 0208 9687 999 or even write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A OAA. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
(Pic: NO2 Annual Mean in 2020)
Air quality is rightly moving up the political agenda, but we have a way to go before we can say we have tackled this public health emergency.
This month I wrote for Parliament’s magazine setting out what has to happen next:
What would any of us do with an extra 11.5 years of life? Cherish it and use it wisely, hopefully. But for too long, we have tolerated a hazard which shortens the lives of around 40,000 people annually by that much. Quite simply, toxic air is a killer- associated with the increased incidence of such potentially lethal conditions as heart disease and stroke.
Some people are particularly vulnerable, of course, and inner cities- which include many of our poorest neighbourhoods- are often most affected, but ultimately we all breathe the same air and none of us can opt out. As an inner London MP, this issue is particularly close to my heart, since we are one of the most polluted places in the country and it is here where the UK is most significantly failing to comply with EU pollution limits. This summer, the Mayor of London had to activate the capital’s emergency alert system as air pollution reached dangerous levels. However, other parts of the UK are not off the hook. The Government’s own statistics show that 38 out of 43 UK “air quality zones” are outside the legal limits for air pollution. From Middlesbrough to Southend, from Leeds to Guildford, towns and cities breach Nitrogen Dioxide levels-a total of 40 million people. Most disturbing of all, is the fact that hundreds and thousands of children are exposed to this danger, with schools in my constituency being amongst those facing the highest exposure.
The Government finally produced its air quality plan this summer, after taking a battering in the courts. Many of the proposals are welcome, including the banning of new diesel and petrol cars from 2040, and the announcement of some additional funding for local authorities, but still the package lacks sufficient ambition. We have both the need for, and the opportunity to, be a world leader on clean air generally and clean transport specifically.
This means a combination of incentives, education and advice, and penalties, backed by central government but with a key role for local councils, for it is as the very local level that support must be built, identifying local problems and designing solutions specific to individual communities. Westminster Council’s campaign to reduce emissions arising from engine idling is also to be commended.
City Mayors can give a crucial lead, as Sadiq Khan has done with his measures to tackle air pollution in the capital. These include the introduction of a charge on the most polluting vehicles from October this year, and an Ultra-Low Emission Zone from 2019, as well as boosts to cycling infrastructure and other measures.
At the national level, we need a new Clean Air Act to provide the coherent framework for, and raise the profile of, this issue. Transport is critical, of course, but so too is the built environment, in terms of the impact of both construction and heating. Our national planning and infrastructure policies have to be geared towards achieving our goals and supporting the scale of the transition we need. And only national government can introduce a vehicle scrappage fund to enable owners of diesel cars and vans - many of whom bought diesel vehicles in the belief that it was a cleaner option than petrol - to retire them early.
The scale of what needs to be done in respect of low-emission vehicles alone is salutary. In May 2011 there were 57,000 such vehicles on our roads. By last year that had increased to 87,000 but the Government’s projection of 5% of all cars in the UK being ULEV by 2020 means that we need to have 1.6 million such vehicles by then.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution, established and chaired by Matthew Pennycook MP (and of which I am a Vice-Chair) has been reconvened for this Parliament. We want to hold the government to account on their vision and implementation strategy. Too much time has already been lost. Parliament rose to the challenge of the murderous Great Smog of 1952 by passing the Clean Air Act of 1956. Today’s air pollution may not look as dramatic, but its impact is even more lethal. We need a commitment and focus as great as that of 60 years ago to change our environment permanently and for the better.
There is, understandably, particular concern about the risks of polluted air to children. Clientearth are running a campaign focusing on the issue of schools air quality, which you can see here.
We need to combine action at the local, London-wide and national level, with us as individuals changing our own behavior (no idling engines, not using cars for short journeys) at the same time as governments and business adapt to a shift to cleaner buildings and transport.
Stay in the single market - and last call for my survey of EU residents
Over 1000 people have already responded to my survey of EU nationals living in the constituency, letting me know their thoughts and feelings about Brexit and their future. I’m leaving the survey open for another couple of weeks, so if you haven’t responded and would like to, there is still time.
You can go on to my website and take the survey here.
Meanwhile, as the evidence continues to mount to indicating how devastating ‘no deal’ would be, I joined with a number of my colleagues in Parliament and elsewhere to back calls for our continued commitment to the single marker and the customs union. link here.
The crisis in Myanmar
Westminster has a large number of residents of Bangladeshi origin and I have been contacted by community representatives and many others about the catastrophic situation in Myanmar, and the violence and human rights abuses being perpetrated against the Rohingyar people by the Myanmar armed forces. I co-signed this letter calling for a suspension of the current training programme being provided to the Burmese military, commitments from the military to abide by international law and help with urgent new humanitarian needs.
Dear Foreign Secretary,
RE: Violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar
We are writing to you today regarding our serious concerns over the unfolding crisis in Rakhine State, Myanmar and the indiscriminate targeting of Rohingya Muslims.
The government of Myanmar has every right to take action to defend itself against terrorism, however, it appears that rather than seeking to arrest terrorists from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) involved in attacks against government buildings on 25th of August, the military is using the attacks as a pretext for the mass clearance of the Rohingya population from large parts of northern Rakhine State.
Based on reports from the United Nations, human rights organisations and Rohingya organisations, we are witnessing human rights violations on a scale extreme even by the standards of Myanmar’s history. Estimates of people killed range from official figures of hundreds dead, to estimates by reliable Rohingya organisations of between 2,000-3,000 killed. Eye witnesses describe civilians being shot indiscriminately, people forced to lie down in rows and then shot in the back of the head, beheadings, rape, rounding people up into buildings which are then set fire to, and deliberate shooting of children.
At the same time, ARSA appears to have been targeting ethnic Rakhine, the Mro minority and people of other races and religions, exacerbating communal tensions and violence. More than 10,000 people have been displaced by such attacks, with more than 140,000 Rohingya having arrived in Bangladesh and it is estimated at least as many again are displaced in Myanmar. A major humanitarian crisis therefore currently exists in Myanmar and in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The twin priorities are to do whatever we can to halt the military offensive against Rohingya civilians, and address the urgent humanitarian needs. While we welcome the statement the Foreign Secretary made earlier this week calling on Aung Sang Sui Kyi to use her position to stop the violence, we believe it is vital that greater pressure is brought to bear on Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of the military in Myanmar. It is he, not Aung San Suu Kyi, who has the power to order the military to halt their attacks. While there is no single measure which can persuade the military to halt its attacks, any leverage that can be used must be used.
We also request that the government review its current approach towards the Burmese military in light of the serious human rights violations which they are committing now and have been committed in recent years. We request that the current training programme being provided to the Burmese military is suspended and an evaluation is carried out to assess its effectiveness and value for money. Any resumption should be conditioned on commitments from the military to abide by international law and the government should halt the export of any kind of equipment to the military.
Furthermore, the government should support an urgent resolution on the situation at the new session of the Human Rights Council, and support a resumption of the annual resolution on Myanmar at the United Nations General Assembly.
Additional funding must be provided to meet urgent new humanitarian needs, rather than coming from the existing budget allocated to Myanmar.
Longer term solutions to address the root causes of the problems in Rakhine State will be hard to implement as long as this current crisis continues. In this regard, we welcome the recommendations of the Rakhine Commission led by Kofi Annan and urge the British government to work with the government of Myanmar, providing both financial resources and expertise, to ensure they are implemented as swiftly as possible.
The scale of the human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Myanmar is unprecedented in its recent history. It requires the attention of the British government at the highest level. We hope that as in the past, the government will show global leadership in support of the people of Myanmar as they face this new crisis.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Rushanara Ali MP
Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Burma
Winter is coming - so get your flu jab!
Vaccination helps the whole community resist disease, and when vaccination rates fall, outbreaks can occur with potentially serious consequences.
In 2017/18 the following individuals are eligible for a free flu vaccine.
• All children aged 2 -8 on 31 August 2017
• All primary school-aged children in former primary school pilot areas
• Those aged 6 months to under 65 years with a serious medical condition
• Pregnant women
• Those aged 65 years and over
• Those in long-stay residential care homes
• Frontline health and social care workers
• The morbidly obese
If you are in one of these categories PLEASE do take action, and arrange to get your jab!
Your chance to comment on the Mayor of London’s housing plan
From the crisis of affordability to conditions in the private rented sector to homelessness and the long, long wait for a council flat transfer- housing is always a priority issue. Sadiq Khan has just issued his draft housing plan for London, so do take and look and let him (and me) know your thoughts:
This Strategy has five key areas:
- Building more homes for Londoners
- Delivering genuinely affordable homes
- High quality homes and inclusive neighbourhoods
- A fairer deal for private renters and leaseholders
- Tackling homelessness and helping rough sleepers
The aim of this Strategy is to address the housing shortage through an intensive use of London’s available land, focusing on more genuinely affordable housing and providing help now for people feeling the effects of the housing crisis - from private renters to rough sleepers.
This Sunday, October 1st, is ‘Silver Sunday’, with a range of activities and events available for older people. I strongly support the work Westminster Council does to recognise the value of older residents and to tackle the scourge of loneliness. You can find out more about what is going on here.
North Paddington Foodbank
I was delighted to be able to speak at the North Paddington Foodbank AGM recently, and to congratulate the staff and many volunteers who put so much into collecting and distributing food for people in crisis.
Worryingly, demand is rising sharply, as these figures from their annual report show:
So please do see if you can help, whether by dropping some items into the collection points, or helping out directly.
You can find all their details here.
After many years of (generally) falling crime, there has been a worrying rise more recently, and a number of constituents have contacted me with their concerns. Whilst the Police have been active on this issue and had a number of successes, the fact remains that police numbers are well down from their 2011 peak, and I am amongst those pressing hard for a re-think on the further £400m of cuts to the Met Police budget. I have discussed the issue of moped-enabled and other violent crimes with the new Met Commissioner and will continue to do so at every opportunity. In the meantime, the Mayor of London is working with the various agencies involved to develop solutions.
Church Street regeneration plans
Westminster City Council recently announced new and much more ambitious plans for the re-development of large areas of Church Street.
These will affect pretty well everyone living in the area - some directly, as residents in blocks of flats due to be demolished and re-built, others because of the scale of the building work and the huge changes that will be made to the area over many years.
Many of the blocks due to be re-built were affected by the original, now much delayed, Futures Plan, which was backed by a vote of residents in 2012. However, this new plan brings in many blocks that were not included at that point. The Council is not planning any further votes on their new proposals.
• This is the biggest and most ambitious regeneration scheme Westminster Council has attempted. The track record of delivery has not been great in the past and it is essential that lessons are learned and both the consultation with residents and the management of the scheme are better than in the past.
• It is vital that all residents have a say in this process - asking questions and making their views known. Labour believes there should be a final vote on the revised scheme, but whatever happens the Council must ensure that the process produces a scheme that local residents actually want to see delivered.
• Tenants (including some housing association tenants), leaseholders and private tenants will be affected in different ways. Proper and independent advice must be available to everyone to make sure everyone’s interests are properly served.
• There is a strong case for re-developing a number of blocks in Church Street, and there has been support for this in the past. Some blocks were not well designed, and are desperately in need of improvement (and have been allowed to decline without investment in recent years). There is also a need for new homes, and we accept that in the absence of proper government funding some of these must be higher-value private homes in order to raise money towards extra council/housing association homes and community facilities.
Westminster has a bad track record on providing truly affordable homes, whether to rent or buy, and we need more of these, not just more expensive luxury flats.
Pleasant open spaces are part of this vision, but they are not enough on their own. A densely populated place like Church Street needs good community facilities - not just school and GP places, but support for parents, activities for older residents and things for children and young people to do are essential.
The exhibition is on line at churchstreetmasterplan.org.uk or on display at the Regeneration Base at 99 Church Street NW8 between now and October 29th. Please do, fill in the questionnaire, and talk to your friends and neighbours.
Thank you for reading.
Karen Buck MP
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