MP Keir Starmer: ‘Air pollution is a critical issue of our time’

Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer wasn't troubled by Iain Duncan Smith's jibe

Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer wasn't troubled by Iain Duncan Smith's jibe - Credit: Supplied by Keir Starmer

As Parliament returns, the MP for Holborn and St Pancras writes for the Ham&High on why tackling pollution is one of his top priorities.

With the bank holiday over the summer is nearing its end. For many it will mean back to school.

Let me congratulate all those who did so well in their exams, and wish you all the best with your futures, whether that involves further education or starting work.

Returning to school should mean going to a place in which children can work and learn in a safe and secure environment.

But in Camden we know this is not always the case. Pupils – and teachers – face an invisible hazard in the quality of the air that we all have to breathe.

Pollution in London has reached completely unacceptable levels.

In July this year the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, published a list of schools across the capital that are in areas where pollution exceeds legal levels.

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There are 36 Camden primary schools, and six secondary schools, among the 200 schools in London that register the highest levels of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide.

A study by King’s College also found that 264 deaths in Camden were attributable to the poor quality of our air.

We are the sixth most polluted borough in London.

This is simply unacceptable and has to be challenged. Sadiq has announced a series of measures on air pollution, including extending the Ultra-Low Emission Zone and implementing an extra charge on the most polluting vehicles entering the city.

This is welcome, but we all have to understand the scale of the challenge and do more.

The Clean Air Act 1956 was passed 60 years ago to deal with the then smogs of London.

Now an equally radical and far reaching response is needed to the different, but still lethal, pollution we face.

Camden Council has launched a new Clean Air Action Plan, which builds on work over recent years including the Cleaner Air Fund, which helped 19 schools and nurseries improve their environments.

But a necessary first step is, of course, to accurately record and monitor air pollution.

The Camden Plan envisages a range of sensors which will measure the pollution across the borough. This is badly needed, particularly with the threat that the many years of HS2 construction work will make a bad situation worse.

If HS2 goes ahead we could have literally hundreds of lorry trips through our communities every day for many years.

Crossrail 2 could also add to these numbers. The threat to the quality of our air is obvious.

More widely, we have to acknowledge that, at the moment, action to manage and improve air quality, including legislation and limits, is largely driven by the EU.

In light of the EU Referendum result, it is critical that the UK is not unhitched from this drive to improve standards.

Air quality should be a central issue of the ongoing debate about our relationship with the EU.

We simply cannot be complacent about this issue. That is why I have decided to make air quality in Holborn and St Pancras a priority in my work, alongside housing and HS2.

To help raise the issue and start a wider discussion, I am hosting a public meeting on air quality at Netley Primary School at 4pm on Thursday, September 8. Please come if you can.