By Neil McAlpine

Whilst many of us are still trying to understand the effects of the vote to leave the EU, it certainly creates some opportunities.

For many years the pollution laws, targets and punishments for not reaching targets have been governed or overseen by the European Union. So what now? The UK has an opportunity to introduce new legislation and show that it leads the world when it comes to tackling air pollution.  We can take a massive step forward and do something about the horrendous mess our pedestrian, cycling and public transport networks (or lack of!) are currently in.

Over 40,000 people a year die early from air pollution in the UK, and as I mentioned in a previous blog about air pollution, most towns and cities suffer levels of noxious fumes, well above legal limits. One of the main sources and origins of noxious fumes (in particular nitrogen dioxide) is private vehicle use which has been brought to the attention of the public in a massive way by the VW scandal with regard to emissions tests. Let’s use that public knowledge and outrage to put pressure on the UK government.

There has already been some action including the legal challenge by ClientEarth who are effectively suing the UK government for not acting quickly enough when the Supreme Court ordered the UK to fulfill its legal duty to cut pollution rapidly. In addition, Sadiq Khan is planning to bring in the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone over a wider area in London and to introduce it earlier than planned.

However, this is not enough.

We need the UK government to really step-up and become a world leader. It has the opportunity to forge a new set of laws, post Brexit, which will truly address the air pollution problem exacerbated by vehicles.

UCL recently published research recommending a punitive tax on diesel vehicles, which is a good starting point, but we need other measures to go along with that. Let’s get legislation committing the UK government to spend 10% of the transport budget on cycling and walking, bringing ultra-low emissions zones into all cities, subsidising peak hour travel on public transport and perhaps most importantly, having a legal presumption preventing new developments in locations which cannot offer effective sustainable transport options and are primarily only accessed by car.

Brexit provides the UK government with an opportunity (I knew there had to be one), let’s see if it can grasp this before it is too late!

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Neil McAlpine, Sustainability, Transportation

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