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Real leadership on air quality needs real action from Council

August 28, 2018 5:26 PM
Smokey busThe Liberal Democrats Transport spokesman in Newcastle, Cllr Greg Stone, says that it's not a surprise that Newcastle council leader Nick Forbes has sent out a press release announcing that he has signed a round-robin letter of mayors and city leaders calling on the Government to take urgent action on the issue of air quality . It's right that he should highlight the importance of action on this issue given the effects of traffic congestion and vehicle emissions on public health and the environment.
However, his call is a little cynical given that DEFRA is already requiring cities including Newcastle to publish plans to improve clean air at several identified hotspots in the city by the end of this year. The council has already admitted that it won't meet that deadline, though it hopes to produce something next year. It's all very well to call on the Government to take urgent action but Cllr Forbes seems disinclined to urgency on the part of the council.
As ever, Cllr Forbes calls upon the Government to provide more money. There may well be a case for that. But there are important steps he and the council could take today to make progress. The Lib Dem Opposition suggest these could include planning new park and ride provision from the east and west of the city and setting a target date for transition to low-emission buses and taxis in Newcastle. A Clean Air Commission for the Tyneside / Northumberland conurbation could be established to identify the best ways of encouraging a shift to sustainable transport.
Cllr Forbes could even take up the issue of bus operators transferring clean hybrid buses using the Coast Road route out of Newcastle to Leeds, which is planning to introduce a £100 daily charge for diesel buses, coaches, and HGVs. We're getting Leeds's diesels in return, meaning our air will be less clean.
As the portfolio holder for transport for the North East Combined Authority, it's his direct responsibility to make things happen on this agenda.
Real leadership on air quality needs real action, not round robins and press releases.