Sunday, 16 October 2016

A mass killer in our midst.

On friday morning a lot of news outlets in Wales led with a story in which the British Lung Foundation revealed that half of Welsh councils did not have any air quality monitors outside schools. The BLF report also revealed that 5 areas of Wales - including the major urban areas of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport - have unsafe levels of particle pollution Of course it goes without saying that all local authorities should be monitoring the air quality in their respective areas but perhaps it's more important to look at the major cause of the poor air quality in the first place ie the numbers of vehicles on our roads.

The numbers of vehicles using british roads in the last 40 years has risen exponentially. So whereas in 1977 it was estimated there were around 11 million privately owned vehicles in the UK that figure now stands at well over 40 million. Now you dont have to be a scientist to work out that concurrent with this huge rise in vehicle ownership has been a rise in health conditions associated with pollution from vehicles. As despite the improvements made to vehicles by car manufacturers in recent years petrol and diesel fumes still contain chemical agents which can cause lung disease, asthma and cancer and which can hinder intellectual development in children.Thus it was reported two months ago that air pollution kills 50,000 thousand people in Britain annually - an astonishing figure

There are a number of reasons for the huge increase of vehicle ownership in the UK in recent decades but key among them certainly was the privatisation of rail and bus services in britain by the Thatcher government in the 1980s. And an indication of the contempt Thatcher had for public transport can be seen when she once told a close aide "A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure". Hence one of Thatcher's dreams was to create what she called a 'great car economy'

Unfortunately Thatcher's 'dream' has turned into a nightmare for millions of people in modern britain, with bus and rail services shrinking or disappearing altogether in many places. And many people wouldnt be able to get to work or fulfill other basic activities if they didnt have access to a car. Evidently a key instrument in improving the air quality in modern britain and reducing the staggering numbers of deaths it causes would be to return the railways and buses to public ownership. Unfortunately successive British governments at westminister have remained in thrall to free market ideas and so - despite the mounting evidence - have left the rail networks and bus services in private hands. Resulting in the UK (outside london) having among the worst public transport in the developed world.

The devolved governments in Wales and Scotland have had the powers to reregulate bus services in their respective countries for some years now, but for some unfathomable reason have neglected to use these powers. In fact the ruling SNP shamefully abandoned a manifesto committment to reregulate buses in Scotland after it received large donations from Brian Souter the owner of the private bus company Stagecoach

This week a case is being heard in the UK at the high court in london brought by the Environmental organisation Client Earth. They charge the British government with failing to tackle air pollution in the UK. Let's hope Client Earth succeeds in its case - it could end up saving thousands of lives in the coming years   

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