Last week, Jeff Smith, Labour MP for Manchester Withington, led a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament on the issue of air quality.
Highlighting the urgency of cleaning up our air to support better public health, especially during a pandemic caused by a respiratory virus, Jeff timed the debate to coincide with the recently launched consultation on Greater Manchester’s plans for a clean air zone.
The Withington MP pointed out that like coronavirus, air quality exacerbates ‘existing inequalities in our society’, disproportionately hitting people in some of the UK’s most deprived areas. He also drew attention to the link between Covid deaths and poor air quality, in light of a recent Harvard study that found an increase in fine particulate matter of just 1 microgram per cubic metre is associated with an 8% rise in covid-19 deaths.
Laying out Greater Manchester’s proposals for a clean air zone and wider air quality improvement plans, Jeff urged the Government to provide adequate support to local authorities so that their ambitions could be realised. The plans aim to restrict high polluting vehicles on our roads, and incentivise drivers to change to cleaner vehicles.
Jeff particularly emphasised the fact that those whose livelihoods would be impacted by the Greater Manchester proposals – like taxi drivers – were already being severely impacted by Government-mandated coronavirus restrictions. He urged the Government to guarantee enough funds to compensate people who will find it a financial burden to change to less polluting cars.
He’s encouraging Manchester residents to have their say in the consultation on the plans.
Jeff also joined Labour’s shadow DEFRA team in urging the Government to bring the Environment Bill back to the House, and to incorporate the World Health Organisation’s air quality standards into the Bill.