Driving across the junction of Stone Street and Knightrider Street in Maidstone recently I was enveloped by a cloud of black smoke. I had to close my windows and hold my breath for a few seconds until the car in front stopped spewing out acrid exhaust fumes that would put a 1950’s bus to shame.
I’ve been banging on about the effect of road traffic on our air quality in Maidstone for a few years now, with pollution in some areas on a par with the worst of London’s boroughs. Upper Stone Street has the 5th worst data in the country and yet air pollution is reported to be the world’s single largest preventable public health risk, and our children are the most vulnerable.
Reducing traffic congestion will help but fundamentally it is also vehicle emissions that need to be reduced, in both toxicity as well as volume, if we are to make headway here.
This week marked the start of a new world leading congestion charge in London for older, more polluting cars entering the city. It is not without controversy as the ULEZ tax may disproportionately impact small businesses during the transition to cleaner engines. The benefit to the wider public at large, however, must be the prime driver and I believe there is wholesale underlying support.
Maidstone Borough Council have a duty and a plan to improve air quality and I have, this week, written to MBC’s leader Martin Cox seeking an update on progress. The Government’s Clean Air Strategy provides £3.5 billion pounds of funding to make road transport more environmentally friendly and I have offered my full support to MBC in accessing any money that may be available to us.
The smoking ban in public places back in 2007 was once controversial but is now, almost universally, accepted and the public health outcomes wide-ranging. Let us work together to replicate that success.