By East Hampshire MP and Education Minister, Damian Hinds
I recently met the British Heart Foundation to discuss their research on air pollution.
Their findings show how harmful pollutants such as particulate matter can enter the bloodstream and cause damage to people’s hearts and circulatory system, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The analysis shows that even in rural areas such as East Hampshire, there can be air quality issues.
Partly this is because it isn’t only the local area that affects our air – any area is affected by transient transport, the wider region and prevailing winds.
Nothing is more important than the air that we breathe, but it doesn’t always get the attention it warrants.
Although we locally in East Hampshire are within both the EU requirements and the more stringent WHO guidelines, I think many would be surprised to hear that East Hampshire is mid-ranked in the foundation’s study across all constituencies.
The new Environment Bill has a framework for setting legally-binding targets for air quality – plus waste and resource efficiency, water and nature – and the new legislation is a generational opportunity to fix this.
Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the policy options in detail. This must be a worthy successor to the 1956 Clean Air Act that was
passed in response to London’s Great Smog.
As education secretary, I highlighted the issue of engines idling outside school gates.
Stopping this would be a small but good start, and the Department of Transport has confirmed that guidance on enforcement against idling engines is currently being revised and will be reissued to Local Authorities in the coming months.
More widely, accelerating take-up of electric vehicles would be a game changer and sales of electric cars are now increasing rapidly, but from a small base.
The development of battery technology will also have a significant impact on our ability to move towards greater electrification.
But there are things that can be done locally, too.
I really welcome East Hampshire District Council’s initiative to plant 120,000 trees, and the community-wide work being done by many local groups.
From championing home energy savings, organising litter picks, encouraging us to use less plastic, to promoting cycling and walking, there is a great deal happening, which together can inspire and lead long-lasting change for the benefit of all of us.