40,000 people die per year in the UK because of air pollution, so why is there nothing about it in the Tory manifesto?

People are dying and children are developing debilitating asthma and what is the Tory's solution in their manifesto? Plant some trees

Chloe Farand
Saturday 20 May 2017 13:15 BST
Conservative party leader Theresa May during the Scottish Conservatives manifesto launch at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre
Conservative party leader Theresa May during the Scottish Conservatives manifesto launch at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

The Conservative manifesto has confirmed what many have feared for a long time: Tories are unable to be serious about air quality.

In the 88-page document, which will set out the direction of Theresa May’s government if she is elected on 8 June, there is a feeble plan to tackle the illegal levels of pollution in the air breathed by millions of Britons every day.

Instead, a couple of lines about “healthy towns and cities” and a promise to plant more trees.

It is unlikely that between lunch in Brussels and a visit to a new grammar school, May will have any time to oversee green-fingered ministers delivering on their promise to plant an additional one million trees on top of the 11 millions pledged by the previous government.

General Election round-up: May 19

If the Conservatives have not turned into a party of tree-huggers overnight, the promise appears like an afterthought, a crowd pleasing pledge to show it still cares somewhat about the environment after embracing fracking.

In its plan to “take action” against “poor air quality”, the Conservatives have promised £600m for every car and van to be zero emission by 2050. No mention of tax incentives nor a scrappage scheme to persuade people to ditch their diesel cars in favour of less polluting vehicles.

Meanwhile, killing slowly, the dirty fumes are poisoning the lungs of children, with growing numbers now being diagnosed with asthma.

Let’s face it, the Tory proposal to improve air quality is at best ridiculous and at worst, a clear indication the party does not care about the issue.

The Government has faced repeated court challenges by environmental law firm Client Earth over illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide. But neither the threat of legal action nor a High Court order to publish an air pollution plan - delayed again and shelved until after the election - have been enough to see ambitious action commitments.

The Conservatives may be shunning their responsibilities on this public health crisis but their manifesto speaks for itself: the party just has no plan.

Yet, 40,000 people die prematurely in the UK every year because of illegal levels of pollution and not being able to face that reality. This is less a sign of strong and stable leadership than one of weakness and irresponsibility.

Sadly, air quality cannot compete as an urgent and serious issue in this election alongside Brexit, the economy and the NHS.

David Timms, from Friends of the Earth, slammed the lack of policies to deal with the dirty air crisis as “a national disgrace” and said the polluting car manufacturers “will sleep easy knowing that they have been let off the hook while children with asthma will continue to choke”.

There is no doubt tackling air quality will be a challenging issue and one that could prove unpopular with some motorists, who were previously encouraged to buy diesel vehicles for the exact opposite reasons they are now being asked to avoid them.

If May wins the election, the Tories will have to get their hands dirty and get planting but even that might not be easy.

According to an analysis by Energydesk last November, the rate of planting was at its lowest since recording began in 1970 and only 1.35 million trees were planted between April 2015 and November 2016 - far away from the 11 million promised.

The Tories are out on a limb when it comes to air quality and it’s more than time they did something real about it.

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