Last Wednesday, I spoke in a Member’s Debate on Air Pollution, highlighting how improving our Government’s transport policies are key to tackling poor air quality.
Read my full speech below.
I thank Sarah Boyack for bringing this important debate to the chamber this evening. I, too, thank Friends of the Earth, Sustrans, Transform Scotland and the British Heart Foundation for their very useful briefing.
Sadly, our much-heralded Scottish fresh air is not always as fresh as we might think or wish—sometimes noticeably so, particularly in national air pollution hotspots such as St John’s Road and Queensferry Road in Edinburgh. However, even at levels below current Scottish pollution standards, our health is still being damaged. While we debate the shortage of general practitioners, the impact of bedblocking and the need for our local authorities to have sufficient funding to implement health and social care integration, we need to start looking at how decisions taken in other policy areas, such as planning and transport, are impacting on our health. As a result, I will focus in my speech on the impact of the Government’s transport policies on air pollution and where change is needed.
In 2014, Transform Scotland published “Warning Signs 2014: Is Scotland moving towards sustainable transport?”, which sets out just how is Scotland moving about. According to the report, 65 per cent of journeys are made in cars, most of which have one passenger; 23 per cent by walking; 9 per cent by bus; 2 per cent by rail; and 1 per cent by bike. However, it was not always like that. In 1985, more trips were completed on foot than by car—the figures were 43 per cent and 39 per cent—and it was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that things began to change and we had the situation that has remained in place ever since.
While our climate change emissions have declined by 34 per cent in recent years, our transport emissions have declined by 1 or 2 per cent, and they make up 25 per cent of all climate change emissions. Transport emissions contribute to climate change and also pollute our air and damage our health.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has announced that air pollution and, in particular, particulate matter are carcinogenic—or cancer causing—to humans. Professor David Newby of the British Heart Foundation centre of research excellence in the city of Edinburgh has said:
“In the 1950s, when there was a lot of smog, the problem used to be that particles were big and they stuck in the upper airways. Now these nanoparticles go straight past, deep into the lungs, even into the bloodstream. We have a clear link between air pollution levels and heart attacks, and we believe the particles in the air are the cause of this.”
When I visited the centre recently with MP colleagues from Labour and the Scottish National Party, Professor Newby told us of the links between air pollution and heart attacks and the high likelihood that those who have suffered such attacks will have sat in heavy traffic in the hours that led up to that episode.
The European Environment Agency showed in its report on air quality in Europe that more than 90 per cent of people in European cities breathe air that is dangerous to their health. We know that children, the elderly and the sick are disproportionately affected by air pollution. That is not being addressed by the Government’s transport policies in Scotland or by our local authorities. If it were being addressed, we would not have 32 local air quality management areas in which air pollution levels are dangerously high. I welcome the fact that we have a cleaner air for Scotland strategy, but does it have the teeth to make a difference?
The Government claims that it will promote a modal shift away from cars through walking and cycling among other policies, but more has been spent on trunk roads and motorways and less has been spent on maintenance than ever before. If the minister wants to boost the local economy and prevent damage to cars and cyclists, shovel-ready potholes can be found across Lothian and across the country. Transform Scotland is right in calling on local and national Government to focus on a fix-it-first policy.
I would like the Government to invest in affordable bus and rail services, low-emission zones, and greener buses and taxis; to incentivise shared car use; to get freight off our roads where possible; to increase workplace parking levies; to protect and enhance our green spaces; to introduce presumed liability; and to invest more than 2 per cent of the £2 billion transport budget in walking and cycling. Green Party policy, in line with the views of the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Institute of Highway Engineers and the British Heart Foundation, is that 10 per cent of the budget is required to deliver the shift that we need to see for clean air for all.
The Government has five years to deliver its vision of 10 per cent of all journeys by bike. If the minister is serious about that, he will need to start pedalling a lot faster.