Today, the Labour Party launched its first ever Clean Air Summit. The party is calling for a Clean Air Act, but meanwhile work is being done to do what we can within the current restraints. Present at this summit were Labour MPs, local Councillors, and climate activists alike. They came together for discussion of the problems being faced and the solutions being found in the drive for clean air. Dirty air is disproportionately affecting the poorest people in our communities; particularly those on the lowest pay, women and those from Bame backgrounds. Illegal and harmful levels of air pollutants are found right across the UK and here in Eastbourne. A generation of children are growing up breathing in illegally polluted air. Children are dying. In December 2020, legal history was made when a coroner ruled nine years old Ella Kissi-Debrah’s death in February 2013 was caused by acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and air pollution exposure. Her mother has said that had she known how dangerous to health, living on the London South Circular was, then she would have moved. Here in Eastbourne, 61 people a year die from particulate air pollution according to Public Health England.
Despite various damning court case wins (e.g. those brought by the legal eco activists Client Earth), the Government still has no coherent plan or strategy. Client Earth’s view is that the Government passes the buck onto Local Authorities. And, in turn the Local Authorities hands are often tied as they are underfunded by central Government.
But drawbacks aside, there are examples of developing good climate justice practice going on. For example, Labour run Oxford City Council and Hackney Council. Measures being assiduously put in place are: School Streets; low traffic neighbourhoods; the creation of alternatives to car travel e.g. car clubs; people powered/volunteer run bus services reaching those areas previously badly serviced; pop up cycle routes; bus priority lanes; pedestrianised town centre areas; electric or hydrogen fuel bus fleets; EC charging infrastructure and plenty more.
A point raised at the summit is the need to promote the huge benefits for a town’s residents from pursuing these active travel options. It is common that those currently reliant on car and van use are wrongly assuming their freedom of movement will be eroded by such measures. But this can only be the case once efficient and effective active travel alternatives are in place. It is then that residents can continue enjoying freedom of movement without becoming over reliant on their cars. Of course, some people with disabilities. and essential services and delivery workers may continue to need their vehicle, but the vast majority of us would most likely happily welcome a modal shift if only the alternatives were in place. And the bad news is that if we do not act now in producing a fit for purpose transport network, then we will only endure ever more traffic problems. And with many of the new housing developments the traffic in towns and cities will only become worse.
In July 2019, Eastbourne Borough Council voted unanimously for a Carbon Neutrality target of 2030. Eastbourne Eco Action Network was formed to support residents working alongside Councillors to achieve this target. Eastbourne Labour Environmental Forum members are working in a number of the EEAN 10 working groups including the Transport Group. There is much work to be done. If you are interested in supporting the work of EEAN here are the contact details:
Eastbourne Labour Environmental Forum