Five minutes with . . . Matthew Pennycook

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 08 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5993
  1. Tom Moberly
  1. The BMJ

The Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich on why the UK needs a new clean air act

“Air pollution is a public health crisis, and it deserves a commensurate response from the government. Our response as a country to date has been lacklustre. Our collective failure is most evident in the breach of legal air pollution limits. But it’s no less manifest in the obstructive approach that the UK has taken towards European efforts to tackle this problem and a delay and lack of ambition that have characterised the government’s approach to a national air quality plan.

“In seeking to ensure that the government protects environmental regulation in the process of exiting the EU, there is a danger that we come to think of the defence of existing regulation as our sole objective. That would be a mistake. Of course, we must protect existing environment regulations, and pressure must continue to be applied on the government to fully comply with it, but we also have to set our sights much higher. That’s why I strongly support calls for a 21st century clean air act.

“Sixty years ago the Clean Air Act was introduced to banish coal smoke from our skies. The air pollution hazards we face today are less visible, but they are no less dangerous. We need the same level of ambition that drove the legislators in 1956. If there was a toxin in our water system that we knew was prematurely killing tens of thousands of people a year there would be Cobra meetings, there would be task forces in government. The challenge of air pollution is a public health crisis, and it deserves a response, not delayed consultations.”


  • Pennycook chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution. He was speaking at the launch of the report Lethal and Illegal: Solving London's Air Pollution Crisis, which was hosted by the Institute for Public Policy Research in partnership with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution and Greenpeace.

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