Ministers slammed for inaction over London air pollution

From the Evening Standard

Ministers were left shamed after being slammed for their inaction over London’s toxic air.

MPs tore into air quality minister Therese Coffey and transport minister John Hayes over why Londoners were still having to breathe filthy fumes despite the alarm being raised about killer pollution years ago.

“We just can’t go on saying: ‘It’s the fault of somebody else’,” Neil Parish, chairman of the Commons environment committee reprimanded them as he waved a map of a pollution peak smothering London last month.

In heated exchanges, Ms Coffey was accused of “abdicating her responsibility”, “insulting Londoners” and “opting out” of key decisions, claims which she denied.

But Mr Parish lambasted “policies that are just not working” and asked why the Government had to be dragged to court twice to improve its plans to clean up toxic air blamed for a death toll of more than 9,000-a-year in the capital.

Mr Hayes described the ruling by judges, that the Government’s air quality proposals were too feeble, as a “wake-up call”, quoting CS Lewis that “failures are finger posts on the road to achievement”.

But Tory MP Mr Parish chided: “Was not the first court case a wake-up call - does it take two court cases to wake up?”

However, it was Ms Coffey who left MPs most aghast with her stance over a controversial new cruise ship terminal off Greenwich given the go-ahead without a shore-to-ship electrical supply.

Poplar and Limehouse Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick warned of a “gap” in the law and stressed the decision should not have been left to Greenwich council as it affected other parts of London due to fumes from the ships’ engines being kept running.

Rounding on Ms Coffey, he said: “To say, with the greatest respect, that Greenwich have made the decision is an abdication of your responsibility, when tens of thousands of people are dying prematurely because of poor air sit there and say Greenwich have made the decision is an an insult to the people of London.”

Ms Coffey responded: “It’s not an insult to the people of London, it’s a stating of fact that an environmental impact assessment was considered.

“We have got to keep focused on evidence and research.”

However, Mr Parish fired back: “It’s no good to quote just local decisions to opt out of responsibility.”

He said it was a “no brainer” to have a shore-to-ship electrical supply but that local and central government did not appear to be “pulling together”, accusing the minister of “playing one against another”.

Ms Coffey insisted: “It’s about targeted interventions, devised by local communities, that matter.”

Mr Hayes stressed millions more had been allocated to town halls to clean up air pollution, they were being given “more direction” and there was more joint working in Whitehall.

He claimed that in the Autumn Statement an extra £150 million was committed for cleaner buses and taxis, £80 million to improve electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and £20 million for an advanced renewable fuel scheme.

Ms Coffey said over 100 councils had bid for more than £3 million for clean air zones and ministers could go back to Treasury to ask for more cash.

But Mr Parish condemned the sum as a “very small amount of money” to deal with a “very big problem”.