Tens of thousands of people's lives are in danger from air pollution, yet the Government is trying to cut safety standards, a Parliamentary watchdog has claimed. Rather than cutting levels of harmful chemicals and particulates in city air, the Government is trying to reduce safety standards so it can escape being fined by the European Union, according to the Environmental Audit Committee.
Its Chair, MP Joan Walley, says, "It is a national scandal that thousands of people are still dying from air pollution in the UK in 2011 - and the Government is taking no responsibility for this.
"It is often the poorest people in our cities who live near the busiest roads and breathe in diesel fumes, dangerous chemicals and bits of tyre every day.
"Ministers must clear the air in our cities - not lobby the EU to dilute pollution safety standards."
The pollution causes even more problems for those with existing health conditions, she adds. "If you have heart disease, asthma or other respiratory illnesses then living near a congested road like this can literally take years off your life.
"Despite a coalition pledge to meet European safety standards on air pollution the Government appears to be lobbying behind the scenes to water these rules down."
Research from 2008 showed that 30,000 UK deaths were connected to air pollution, but there is no mention of air quality issues in the latest business plans from Defra and the Department for Transport. This is even though the Government is claiming to be trying to comply with European Union guidelines on air quality.
The Government says that local councils can take measures to boost air quality and that it may pass on air pollution fines imposed by the European Union, as outlined in the Localism Bill. But the committee says that in order to sort of the problem, local authorities need help from the Government.
Joan Walley explains, "The Government should help local authorities remove the most polluting vehicles from our streets by introducing a national framework for low-emissions zones."
The Government should introduce a nationwide network of low emission zones to reduce pollution from traffic and make more people aware of the issue through more publicity.
Committee member, Caroline Lucas MP, adds, "Ministers must take urgent action to improve air quality across the UK - and step up efforts towards a greener transport policy to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport."