Behaviour change must take place

I write in support of a recent correspondent about the deterioration to our environment and wish to draw your readers’ attention to the stark research findings behind air pollution and the use of diesel fuel.

According to a recent report, ‘Public Health in England’ April 2014, it was estimated that approximately 500 people across Tyne and Wear die each year from illnesses where the particulates from diesel fumes was a causal factor in their contracting the particular disease.

The main illnesses linked to air pollution are: heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and asthma. Other ailments identified to have a link with diesel pollution are: men’s sperm count is lowered and where pregnant mothers are exposed to high levels of these pollutants, smaller babies can result.

Areas of high density of pollution have been identified in Newcastle, such as Swan Roundabout, Salters Road, Gosforth , Shields Road (Byker) and the Western By-Pass. According to Professor Margaret Bell from the Transport Operations Research Group at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne “unless the volume of cars is reduced and the congestion removed, pollution will not fall significantly”.

On a recent BBC television programme ‘Trust Me I’m A Doctor’ another key area was identified to be outside every school gate where parents’ using diesel fuelled vehicles either to drop their children off or collect them were creating high levels of air pollution for their own children and others.

The programme makers also advised that the interiors of cars caught in slow moving traffic congestion and where drivers were breathing the fumes of the vehicle in front were also a serious risk.

Our homes are not safe either, if they are situated next to or near a busy main road.

A research project by staff from the University of Lancaster found diesel particulates on furnishings, television and other screens etc inside the houses they surveyed.

Why are all of us (including the drivers of diesel fuelled vehicles and their passengers) being subjected to such dangerous and unnecessary risks?

I think we have to look at the links between our government, the car and road transport industry and the subsidies given to these by successive governments, particularly in making diesel fuel cheaper and more attractive.

It is not the case that what I write about is not known by our political representatives.

Currently, the UK government faces £300m in fines from the EU after failing for fifteen years to address poor air quality in UK towns and cities.

So isn’t time we asked our political representatives who it is they actually represent?

What is required here is a complete change of behaviour in how we travel around Tyne and Wear. We need investment in a public transport system which is integrated and meets people’s journey requirements in a way that is as near to the comfort and convenience of a privately owned car.

We need regulation of diesel fuelled vehicles and where they are allowed to operate. This will take political will and leadership, something that is lacking at present. As I write I can tell your readers that the money currently awarded to ‘One North’ will mainly be targeted at roads and will result in more traffic (50 per cent of which are diesel) and therefore more pollution.

This is a nationwide problem for across England, it is estimated that one in 20 deaths are from air pollution and that 50,000 people are dying as a result of diesel particulates and other gasses emitted from diesel fuelled lorries and cars.

But we can start to do something here in Tyne and Wear, particularly now our councillors have voted for the introduction of a quality contract scheme and bus regulation.

We can start by asking school governors to do something about the vehicles stopping at their gates and we can start by asking our politicians up for election shortly on what their plans are to safeguard our children and families health?

Paul Baker

Newcastle Public Transport Users Group