Evening Standard comment: It’s time to get serious about air pollution


The Government’s failure to get to grips with the challenge of air pollution is evident to all of us: its plans for reducing levels of nitrogen dioxide have twice been declared inadequate by the courts. There are new proposals due to be published at the end of next month, and MPs are prepared to subject them to close scrutiny.

To that end, it is welcome that four separate Commons committees are to hold simultaneous enquiries into the toxic air scandal. Ministers may be taken aback at the prospect of such a wide-ranging inspection but it is needed. In London alone it is estimated that up to 9,400 people die prematurely each year as a consequence of air-bound pollutants. Correcting this dire statistic should be one of the Government’s priorities.

By taking a co-ordinated approach, MPs on the relevant committees (health, transport, environmental audit and food and rural affairs) have made clear that there is no simple solution to the problem; but there is a willingness to work together across parties for a solution. One part of that will be tackling vehicle emissions, not least by encouraging the use of cleaner forms of transport.

When it comes to the development of greener vehicle technology, there is another potential win for the UK: we can take a global lead in this area. Ministers make much of the importance of Britain’s tech sector to our future outside the EU. Cleaning up our air is imperative for the health of the nation. Done right, it could also boost the economy.

Crime and punishment

The Mayor has launched a new four-year Police and Crime Plan for London. Its central element is the commitment to visible street policing, an approach popular with the public and which every mayor and Met Commissioner commits to but which is not always realised in practice, though Sir Ian Blair while Commissioner did make good on the policy. In this case, Sadiq Khan has promised extra “dedicated ward officers” in all of London’s 629 local neighbourhood wards, so we may realistically hope for more police. The most troubling aspect of spending pressures by central Government is that they seem likely to reduce visible policing; the Mayor’s new plan and his extra funding may counter that.

Crucially, the Mayor’s plan also gives priority to the needs of young people — apposite, given the fatal shooting of a teenager in Barking last night. There will be more dedicated officers in schools. Police will take a robust approach to knife crime prevention. There will be focused policing at “youth crime hotspots” — public spaces where teenagers do not feel safe. There will be a review of community provision of alternatives to custody to break the cycle of youth reoffending. These and other proposals make clear how many-sided an effective strategy for youth protection must be, including education, early problem detection, creative approaches to punishment, and a police presence in troubled areas. A complex problem needs a range of solutions. The Mayor’s plan offers hope that crime against and by young people can be dealt with; for their sake, we must hope he succeeds.

Make them funny

Red Nose Day is on Friday and as part of this paper’s Evening Stand-Up campaign, the comedian Aisling Bea advises Londoners preparing to launch their own joke sessions to abandon their inhibitions and prepare to look silly. This paper has once again joined forces with Comic Relief to raise funds for the Dispossessed Campaign. Let’s give it a go. The world would be a better place for more and funnier jokes and London is better for Comic Relief.

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