View from the chamber: Champion climate change with action

Haringey councillor Liz Morris is asking for action to beat climate change.

Haringey councillor Liz Morris is asking for action to beat climate change. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Actions, not words, are needed to protect the environment.

Voters have to deal with a paradox. Virtually all of them think that what is important is what politicians do rather than what they say in speeches or leaflets. Yet speeches and leaflets are very often what they have to go on when they judge their elected representatives. For this reason, I really think that honesty demands politicians match up their rhetoric and the reality of their actions and I really object when they do not do this.

Take, for example, the most recent full council meeting in Haringey. Cllr Tammy Palmer, one of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, put forward a motion that would have required Haringey Council to implement school streets or no-idling zones around every primary school in the borough by 2022. This was inspired by her own experience as a parent at Lordship Lane Primary School, which is piloting a school street.

That means that only pedestrians and cyclists can use the roads around the school at start and finish times. Not only does this tackle congestion and makes it easier and safer to walk and cycle to school but most importantly this scheme improves air quality at the school gates.

Air pollution is a public health crisis and it impacts children especially badly. Reputable estimates suggest 328,000 school children in London are exposed to dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide and that exposure to air pollution will shorten the life of a child born in 2010 by two years.

To support our motion Parents for Healthy Streets Haringey produced a video in which children from across the borough told councillors why they wanted a school ctreet. And parents from Coleridge School in Crouch End and St Mary’s School in Hornsey addressed the chamber and spoke passionately about the damage that air pollution is doing to our children and the need for urgent action from Haringey Council.

Labour did not deny the science showed that air pollution was a serious problem, nor that parents and children support school streets being part of the solution. Despite this, they still amended our motion so instead of a clear deadline to implement school streets all the motion committed them to was producing a report that would take a year. They barely even tried to explain why.

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This rejection came about even though the motion was itself a compromise. It gave the council several years to implement its resolutions. It acknowledged that air pollution was not a problem the council could solve itself. And it allowed that where it is not practical to close the road completely, the council could instead implement a no-idling zone that requires all the cars parked in the zone to switch of their car engines.

Despite this Labour still gutted the motion. But that did not stop them taking to Twitter to boast about the “positive work” they were doing to implement school streets. Nor is this an isolated incident. At the same meeting they passed a motion declaring climate change to be an emergency – and also made sure to tweet about that – but rejected a Liberal Democrat amendment to ensure that this was backed up by concrete local actions such as only using renewable energy for council buildings.

I find it sad that our environment is being treated like this.

It is not a prop for publicity stunts but something that is vital to all our welfare and flourishing. It deserves to be championed with actions, not just words.