What would get you on your bike? Here’s a chance to change your streets | Laura Laker

Imagine if, with an email, you could help to start a national conversation about cleaning up the air where you live, improving the health of your community, boosting the local economy and making your neighbourhood a happier place to be. Well, you can – and you’ve got until 1 June.

This is the government consultation on its cycling and walking safety review, its purpose, “to help make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys”.

If you’re sitting, or standing there, thinking, “I don’t cycle, why should I care?” don’t look away just yet, because this is not just about walking and cycling. This is about having a national conversation about the places we live, and what we want them to be like. Do we want to tackle our lethally and illegally poor air quality, for example? Do we want the choice to cycle and walk to the shops, to school, to work, without fear of dangerous roads? Do we really need every one of our neighbourhood streets to be thoroughfares for passing motor traffic, or would we like them to be places to play, to walk, to sit and shoot the breeze?

Research suggests cycling could be a “miracle pill” for our nation’s health, but most of us can’t access it. There is a 60% chance you’re one of those who would like to cycle more, but feel the roads are too dangerous. If you’re a family there’s a 38% chance you would cycle more often if there were more traffic-free routes; an additional 25% of you have family members who don’t feel confident cycling, according to Cycling UK. If so, you are the people the Department for Transport needs to hear from. More than those already mixing it with motor traffic, you can help to build the case for change.

We in this country are dreadful on cycling and walking. We have four decades of motor-centric thinking embedded at local and national level, and we lag behind many of our European neighbours, in cycling particularly. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. However, with some of the worst obesity rates in the world, and our filthy air, we need to put pressure on our politicians to get moving.

Around 11% of trips less than a mile, and 29% of one to two miles, are currently taken by car. Imagine our streets, and our air, if more people walked and cycled those trips.

I’ve seen at first-hand the impact walking- and cycling-friendly interventions have had in the Netherlands. Neighbourhood streets become places children play out, where people get to know their neighbours, and where it’s safe for older people to get out and about, including on bicycles, without fear of traffic. Places you hear birdsong, rather than the rumble of engines.

Studies have found people living on streets with lighter traffic know more of their neighbours, and are healthier. By making residential streets dead ends for traffic, with bollards or planters, say, while allowing cycles to pass through (known as “filtering”), we can start to achieve change.

On main roads protected cycle tracks help to encourage more people to cycle to work, reduce conflict and make streets feel safer for everyone. Imagine what school-run streets would be like for everyone if kids could cycle to school. One Danish study of 20,000 children aged five to 19 found improved concentration in those who cycled or walked to school.

The benefits of cycling and walking on high streets are tangible, too: time and again studies have shown that town centres don’t grind to a halt when motor traffic is restricted – far from it, they thrive: bike lanes can increase retail sales by a quarter. There isn’t gridlock. Deliveries still happen. Shopping streets become places people want to be.

I’m not judging anyone here – I grew up and learned to drive in rural Somerset and I know what it’s like to live with poor public transport and fast rural roads, where it feels too dangerous to cycle and driving is the only realistic option for most trips. But time and again, surveys show most people support more cycling infrastructure, and more spending on cycling, even if it takes road space from cars, or slows car journey times. Yet we still lack national design standards for cycling infrastructure, which means that local councils, with the best intentions, build routes people can’t use because of barriers, diversions, cyclist dismount signs and narrow, painted lanes that give up at junctions.

If you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Cycling minister Jesse Norman is looking for ideas, and what he calls “idealism with a sense of the practical”. The government is listening right now. It’s time to send a clear message.

Laura Laker is a freelance writer for the Guardian. She also writes on the environment and cycling for the Ecologist and the London Cycling Campaign

What would get you on your bike? Here’s a chance to change your streets | Laura Laker

Imagine if, with an email, you could help to start a national conversation about cleaning up the air where you live, improving the health of your community, boosting the local economy and making your neighbourhood a happier place to be. Well, you can – and you’ve got until 1 June.

This is the government consultation on its cycling and walking safety review, its purpose, “to help make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys”.

If you’re sitting, or standing there, thinking, “I don’t cycle, why should I care?” don’t look away just yet, because this is not just about walking and cycling. This is about having a national conversation about the places we live, and what we want them to be like. Do we want to tackle our lethally and illegally poor air quality, for example? Do we want the choice to cycle and walk to the shops, to school, to work, without fear of dangerous roads? Do we really need every one of our neighbourhood streets to be thoroughfares for passing motor traffic, or would we like them to be places to play, to walk, to sit and shoot the breeze?

Research suggests cycling could be a “miracle pill” for our nation’s health, but most of us can’t access it. There is a 60% chance you’re one of those who would like to cycle more, but feel the roads are too dangerous. If you’re a family there’s a 38% chance you would cycle more often if there were more traffic-free routes; an additional 25% of you have family members who don’t feel confident cycling, according to Cycling UK. If so, you are the people the Department for Transport needs to hear from. More than those already mixing it with motor traffic, you can help to build the case for change.

We in this country are dreadful on cycling and walking. We have four decades of motor-centric thinking embedded at local and national level, and we lag behind many of our European neighbours, in cycling particularly. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. However, with some of the worst obesity rates in the world, and our filthy air, we need to put pressure on our politicians to get moving.

Around 11% of trips less than a mile, and 29% of one to two miles, are currently taken by car. Imagine our streets, and our air, if more people walked and cycled those trips.

I’ve seen at first-hand the impact walking- and cycling-friendly interventions have had in the Netherlands. Neighbourhood streets become places children play out, where people get to know their neighbours, and where it’s safe for older people to get out and about, including on bicycles, without fear of traffic. Places you hear birdsong, rather than the rumble of engines.

Studies have found people living on streets with lighter traffic know more of their neighbours, and are healthier. By making residential streets dead ends for traffic, with bollards or planters, say, while allowing cycles to pass through (known as “filtering”), we can start to achieve change.

On main roads protected cycle tracks help to encourage more people to cycle to work, reduce conflict and make streets feel safer for everyone. Imagine what school-run streets would be like for everyone if kids could cycle to school. One Danish study of 20,000 children aged five to 19 found improved concentration in those who cycled or walked to school.

The benefits of cycling and walking on high streets are tangible, too: time and again studies have shown that town centres don’t grind to a halt when motor traffic is restricted – far from it, they thrive: bike lanes can increase retail sales by a quarter. There isn’t gridlock. Deliveries still happen. Shopping streets become places people want to be.

I’m not judging anyone here – I grew up and learned to drive in rural Somerset and I know what it’s like to live with poor public transport and fast rural roads, where it feels too dangerous to cycle and driving is the only realistic option for most trips. But time and again, surveys show most people support more cycling infrastructure, and more spending on cycling, even if it takes road space from cars, or slows car journey times. Yet we still lack national design standards for cycling infrastructure, which means that local councils, with the best intentions, build routes people can’t use because of barriers, diversions, cyclist dismount signs and narrow, painted lanes that give up at junctions.

If you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Cycling minister Jesse Norman is looking for ideas, and what he calls “idealism with a sense of the practical”. The government is listening right now. It’s time to send a clear message.

Laura Laker is a freelance writer for the Guardian. She also writes on the environment and cycling for the Ecologist and the London Cycling Campaign

What would get you on your bike? Here’s a chance to change your streets | Laura Laker

Imagine if, with an email, you could help to start a national conversation about cleaning up the air where you live, improving the health of your community, boosting the local economy and making your neighbourhood a happier place to be. Well, you can – and you’ve got until 1 June.

This is the government consultation on its cycling and walking safety review, its purpose, “to help make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys”.

If you’re sitting, or standing there, thinking, “I don’t cycle, why should I care?” don’t look away just yet, because this is not just about walking and cycling. This is about having a national conversation about the places we live, and what we want them to be like. Do we want to tackle our lethally and illegally poor air quality, for example? Do we want the choice to cycle and walk to the shops, to school, to work, without fear of dangerous roads? Do we really need every one of our neighbourhood streets to be thoroughfares for passing motor traffic, or would we like them to be places to play, to walk, to sit and shoot the breeze?

Research suggests cycling could be a “miracle pill” for our nation’s health, but most of us can’t access it. There is a 60% chance you’re one of those who would like to cycle more, but feel the roads are too dangerous. If you’re a family there’s a 38% chance you would cycle more often if there were more traffic-free routes; an additional 25% of you have family members who don’t feel confident cycling, according to Cycling UK. If so, you are the people the Department for Transport needs to hear from. More than those already mixing it with motor traffic, you can help to build the case for change.

We in this country are dreadful on cycling and walking. We have four decades of motor-centric thinking embedded at local and national level, and we lag behind many of our European neighbours, in cycling particularly. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. However, with some of the worst obesity rates in the world, and our filthy air, we need to put pressure on our politicians to get moving.

Around 11% of trips less than a mile, and 29% of one to two miles, are currently taken by car. Imagine our streets, and our air, if more people walked and cycled those trips.

I’ve seen at first-hand the impact walking- and cycling-friendly interventions have had in the Netherlands. Neighbourhood streets become places children play out, where people get to know their neighbours, and where it’s safe for older people to get out and about, including on bicycles, without fear of traffic. Places you hear birdsong, rather than the rumble of engines.

Studies have found people living on streets with lighter traffic know more of their neighbours, and are healthier. By making residential streets dead ends for traffic, with bollards or planters, say, while allowing cycles to pass through (known as “filtering”), we can start to achieve change.

On main roads protected cycle tracks help to encourage more people to cycle to work, reduce conflict and make streets feel safer for everyone. Imagine what school-run streets would be like for everyone if kids could cycle to school. One Danish study of 20,000 children aged five to 19 found improved concentration in those who cycled or walked to school.

The benefits of cycling and walking on high streets are tangible, too: time and again studies have shown that town centres don’t grind to a halt when motor traffic is restricted – far from it, they thrive: bike lanes can increase retail sales by a quarter. There isn’t gridlock. Deliveries still happen. Shopping streets become places people want to be.

I’m not judging anyone here – I grew up and learned to drive in rural Somerset and I know what it’s like to live with poor public transport and fast rural roads, where it feels too dangerous to cycle and driving is the only realistic option for most trips. But time and again, surveys show most people support more cycling infrastructure, and more spending on cycling, even if it takes road space from cars, or slows car journey times. Yet we still lack national design standards for cycling infrastructure, which means that local councils, with the best intentions, build routes people can’t use because of barriers, diversions, cyclist dismount signs and narrow, painted lanes that give up at junctions.

If you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Cycling minister Jesse Norman is looking for ideas, and what he calls “idealism with a sense of the practical”. The government is listening right now. It’s time to send a clear message.

Laura Laker is a freelance writer for the Guardian. She also writes on the environment and cycling for the Ecologist and the London Cycling Campaign

NHS at 70: the health service is at a critical point in its lifetime

The Bible tells us our life span is “three score years and 10”. As the National Health Service prepares to pass that milestone, it seems paradoxically both held in higher regard and to be in greater danger than at any time since its founding on 5 July 1948.

Seventy years always looked a little on the optimistic side for the time of Moses in Psalm 90. Even in 1948, life expectancy for men was only 66 and for women 71. Today, though, it is 79 and almost 83 respectively, which tells you a lot about the problems the NHS faces in sustaining its founding principle of cradle-to-grave healthcare, free at the point of use.

We are set for a summer of celebration of the NHS’s 70th. There are crude party political reasons for this, on both left and right, but there is undoubtedly deep-rooted support – indeed, love – for the institution among the British people. Six years on, the NHS section of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics is still widely and fondly remembered.

Those dancing nurses and doctors struck a chord across the world, too. For the NHS is a system deeply envied by other countries for its universal coverage, its humanity and its value for money – and judged the best in the developed world by the Commonwealth Fund, a respected international thinktank.

That surprises many people in the UK fed a relentless media diet of “NHS crisis”, fuelled by political point-scoring and pressure groups’ hyperbole. Last winter proved no exception, but the show was kept on the road thanks to often heroic efforts by health workers and by pushing hospital bed occupancy levels far in excess of recommended limits. English hospitals met the target of maximum 85% bed occupancy for just three days over a month-long period, yet no emergency departments ever closed.

With some parts of the system warning that winter crises are becoming a year-round phenomenon, prime minister Theresa May has suggested she wants to mark the NHS’s 70th by awarding it a long-term funding settlement so it can better plan to meet the spiralling healthcare needs of the ageing population.

No figures have been mentioned, but the Nuffield Trust has projected that funding for the NHS in England alone needs to rise from its current level of £125bn to about £150bn by 2022-23 – £20bn more than currently planned.

Historically, the NHS budget enjoyed average 4% annual rises above inflation from 1948 until 2010. Since then, according to the King’s Fund thinktank, increases under austerity constraints have averaged 1.2%.

A £20bn boost would, of course, be affordable if the “£350m extra a week for the NHS” promised by some Brexiteers in the referendum turned out to be a real dividend of leaving the EU next year. Few in the health world are banking on it.

Reviews and injections of funding seem to come round regularly. Most recently, in 2014, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens agreed a five-year programme to make savings rising to £22bn a year by developing new models of care in return for a pledge by ministers to make good an £8bn annual funding shortfall.

Those new models, based in part on a US approach called “accountable care” whereby health agencies take overall responsibility for the wellbeing of a local population for a fixed per-person fee, have prompted fears of privatisation and triggered legal challenges which may yet force a halt pending new legislation.

While some see such a drift towards a more US-style health system as a real and present threat to the NHS, others see the bigger threat in the growing difficulty of satisfying rising demand for care within a wholly state-funded system, however much the government contributes. As the British Medical Journal has put it: “In the NHS’s 70th year, the debate is at a critical point about the service’s very essence and its sustainability.”

Can we continue to expect the NHS to meet all our needs? Are we prepared to accept the kind of radical changes that Stevens says are needed to modernise the system, including closure of some local hospitals? Are we willing to pay more so that the system can go on dealing with more than 1.4 million patients every 24 hours in England alone?

At least on the latter, apparently we are. New data from the authoritative British Social Attitudes survey show that 61% of us are ready to pay more tax for the NHS, up strikingly from 49% in 2016 and 41% in 2014. For the first time, more than half of Conservative voters say they would dig deeper.

These remarkable findings tell us two things: first, for all its flaws, the health service at 70 continues to be held in deep affection by the British people; and second, May has a following wind for whatever she has in mind by way of a birthday gift.

But history offers us a third and salutary lesson: politicans tinker with the NHS at their peril.

Join the Healthcare Professionals Network to read more pieces like this. And follow us on Twitter (@GdnHealthcare) to keep up with the latest healthcare news and views

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When we cheer the royals, democracy suffers. What a retrograde moment

A friend texts from the US: “Is the monarchy safe for another 100 years now?” Yes, I tell him, I think it is. Saturday was a sunny day and we were brought a vision of ourselves as open, inclusive, free of politicians, full of celebs and horses; this was balm itself. The two people at the centre of it all radiated love, there was a gospel choir and a preacher, and a single mother sitting all alone with immense dignity. I was happy for them.

Meghan is a self–declared feminist, while Harry is a besotted prince. Thus the institution renews itself and there is a mood of self-congratulation. Look at us! We are not a mean-spirited, racist country, because we have let a little bit of the “other” into our theme-park monarchy. This is symbolically important: a woman does not have to be white to get her prince. The fairytale opens the door and in slips the wondrous Meghan.

Will the door stay ajar? Will she be assimilated into the firm? Her life will be absolutely controlled from now on.

Harry’s mother did not declare herself a feminist, but she tore up the script that said Charles could have a mistress; that her children would be sent away; that she must not complain; that she was simply to breed in captivity. Diana’s self–dramatising made her disruptive, a genuine agent of change. Meghan is an actor and a social justice warrior and how she plays these roles is crucial as we face the prospect of an old and unpopular king inheriting the throne. The Daily Mail is already warning her to remain “politically neutral”, ie don’t say anything too challenging. Kate Middleton is middle England’s blandprincess and Meghan will be expected to be just as compliant.

The euphemism for her dual heritage is “modern”. Somehow, in a country that is riven with discord about who should and should not be here, blackness gets reconfigured as modernity, rather than being recognised as part of our history.

As the homeless were cleared off the streets of Windsor to make way for the well-wishers – who then listened to a sermon about making poverty history – one has to ask for whom interracial marriage is a big deal. It is the establishment and the liberal middle classes who continually lecture the working classes on racism and yet it is at the bottom of society, not the top, that interracial relationships are so common as to not be remarked upon. It is the establishment that locks out black people. David Lammy called it “social apartheid” when discussing the astonishing fact that 13 Oxford colleges did not make a single offer to black A-level applicants over a six-year period.

The assimilation of Meghan will be worth watching. If Broken Britain looked mended for a day – patched together by pageantry and a kiss – there has to be acknowledgement that the narrative around identity, sovereignty and nationhood is a place of conflict. The writer and critic Raymond Williams spoke of how new cultural meanings and practices emerge and thus the dominant culture changes. Everything is in flux, except around the monarchy, whose meaning Williams rightly called archaic, for this is a feudal affair. Its role is to show us the limits of capitalist democracy.

So this is not about whether Meghan is great or not (she seems pretty great) or whether the wedding was nice or not (it was). It is about whether this symbolic moment can sustain itself, whether emergent oppositional meanings around feminism or diversity can solidify. She brings modernity to the firm and they benefit enormously. They suddenly appear to be in a class of their own, superior to the dreary politicians.

When we cheer them for welcoming this extraordinary woman, we are also cheering the opposite of the system that provides us so few moments of happiness: democracy.

I wish her well but, my God, what an unreal, retrograde place to be.

The vote to repeal the eighth is on a knife edge

There are moving stories at the moment of Irish people travelling back to Ireland to vote to repeal the eighth. Stories of women who had to leave the country for a termination and are determined this won’t happen to others; men who are going to support their sisters. This is a huge and important moment and the polls are narrowing. None of this is about whether women will or will not have abortions – they will – but where they have them.

A lot that has remained unspoken in Irish culture is finally being said. Up until now, abortion was simply exported and much of Irish society was content to live with this hypocrisy. No more.

Dublin will vote yes, but Ireland isn’t just Dublin, it is also the small towns and rural areas that campaigners know they must win. Huge amounts of money have poured into Ireland from US anti-choice campaigners. Like Jacob Rees-Mogg, they do not believe in the right to terminate a pregnancy, even in cases of rape. These are fundamentalists and, like all fundamentalists, their battlefield is the female body. Their posters talk of men protecting children – women are simply incubators who sometimes have to die. Ireland lives with its dead women – Ann Lovett, Savita Halappanavar – and the silent weeping of those forced to carry dead babies to term.

To watch the Irish diaspora travel home from New York, Berlin and Paris to vote, some flying halfway around the world to say yes to women and their rights, is something I never thought I would see. I fear the closeness of this vote now. But change is coming. I know it is.

Asia Argento on stage at the closing ceremony of the Cannes film festival.


Asia Argento on stage at the closing ceremony of the Cannes film festival. Photograph: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Asia Argento struck at the heart of the business

Words matter. Standing up to power matters. For all the #MeToo black dresses on red carpets, nothing has been as direct as Asia Argento’s speech at the closing ceremony of Cannes. She told the audience that, when she was 21, she was raped at the festival by Harvey Weinstein and that Cannes was his hunting ground. “Even tonight, sitting among you, there are those who have still to be held accountable for their conduct against women,” she said. She looked strained but defiant as she struck at the heart of the business. Weinstein denies all the allegations of non-consensual sex that have been made against him. The audience shifted uncomfortably in their seats. She was magnificent.

Irish abortion vote: ‘propagandistic’ use of children with Down’s syndrome condemned

A doctor, author and father of a son with Down’s syndrome has hit out at Ireland’s anti-abortion lobby for using children with the condition during campaigning for Friday’s referendum.

With only days left before the Irish electorate votes on whether to introduce limited abortion into the state’s hospitals, Dr Chris Kaposy has condemned the “propagandistic use” of children like his son by anti-abortion campaigners.

Kaposy – a bioethicist who has written a book around the ethics of prenatal testing “from a pro-choice, disability-positive perspective” – has accused the opponents of Irish abortion reform of dragging “a vulnerable group into a contentious political debate”.

On Friday, Irish voters will decide whether to repeal the 8th amendment to the country’s constitution, which gives equal right to life to both the foetus and mother from the moment of conception.

The electorate will also be asked, if the 8th is abolished, to enable the Irish parliament to draw up legislation that would legalise abortion in hospitals for pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

Anti-abortion campaigners have claimed in poster ads that repealing the 8th amendment would lead to widespread aborting of foetuses diagnosed with Down’s syndrome.

They have used pictures of children with Down’s syndrome on billboards with the message: “In Britain, 90% of babies with Down’s syndrome are aborted.”

Kaposy’s criticisms echo those of the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who has described the use of images of children with Down’s syndrome in the referendum campaign as wrong.

Referring to his nine-year-old son, Aaron, Kaposy said: “As the father of a child with Down’s syndrome, I am opposed to the propagandistic use of people like my son in attempts to limit reproductive rights, as has happened in the Irish debate, as well as in the legislative actions taken in various American states to outlaw the abortion of foetuses with Down’s syndrome.”

Quick guide

The Irish abortion referendum

The Irish abortion referendum

Ireland is to vote on abortion law reform next month. In a referendum on 25 May, voters will decide if they want to repeal an article in the republic’s constitution known as the eighth amendment. 

The amendment, or article 40.3.3 of the constitution, gives unborn foetuses and pregnant mothers an equal right to life – in effect a ban on abortion. Currently, terminations are allowed only when the life of the mother is at risk, with a penalty of up to 14 years in prison for breaking the law. 

The government in Dublin has promised to introduce legislation allowing for abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if the vote goes in favour of repeal.

Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/X03756

Irish anti-abortion campaign groups have claimed that a Down’s syndrome diagnosis could be used to access a termination under liberalised abortion laws. Kaposy, however, said the proposed reforms would not allow a Down’s syndrome diagnosis to be a reason for an abortion.

“It is difficult to predict,” he said. “In one study from the US, the [average] gestational age at abortion [in cases of Down’s syndrome] was 13 weeks, though there is a trend toward earlier abortion with improved screening tests. Further, Down’s syndrome is not a condition that typically threatens the life of the pregnant woman, nor does it cause serious health risks in pregnancy, not is it a condition that is typically fatal in utero or soon after birth.”

Kaposy, who lectures in bioethics at Memorial University in Canada, said he believed more children with Down’s syndrome should be brought into families like his own.

“People with Down’s syndrome tend to lead flourishing lives. Their families typically thrive. Perhaps more parents would choose children with this condition if they knew these facts. Prospective parents should be empowered to make choices in favour of parenting children with disabilities like Down’s syndrome, rather than being prohibited from choosing against disabilities.”

UK’s new air pollution strategy ‘hugely disappointing’, says Labour

A new clean air strategy published by the UK government has been criticised as “hugely disappointing” by the Labour party. Other groups said it did little to tackle the dirty diesel vehicles that are the main source of toxic air in urban areas.

The new strategy, announced on Tuesday by environment secretary, Michael Gove, aims to crack down on a wide range of pollutants. These include particulates from wet wood and coal burning in homes, ammonia emissions from farms and dust from vehicle tyres and brakes.

Ministers also want to give provide personalised pollution alerts to people and give local authorities new powers to cut pollution, all subject to public consultation.

The government said the new action would reduce the costs of air pollution to society by an estimated £1bn every year by 2020. The health costs of toxic air are currently estimated at £20bn a year, by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The new clean air strategy is a response to an EU directive on cutting harmful emissions. An air quality plan, published in July 2017, is related to a separate EU directive on cleaner air. The latter plan was condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors, and was ruled illegally poor in February, the third such high court defeat for ministers.

On Thursday, the government suffered another legal blow, with the UK referred to Europe’s highest court over its failure to tackle nitrogen dioxide pollution, which mostly comes from diesel vehicles.

Gove said: “Air quality has improved significantly since 2010 but 60 years on from the historic Clean Air Act a clear truth remains – air pollution is making people ill, shortening lives and damaging our economy and environment.

“This is why we are launching this clean air strategy, backed up with new primary legislation,” he said. “It sets out the comprehensive action required across all parts of government to improve air quality.”

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “Air pollution is contributing to a national health crisis. We have a responsibility to stop this issue at source. Today’s [strategy] does just that, taking a giant step towards cleaning up our air for good.”

However, Sue Hayman, the shadow environment secretary, said: “It’s hugely disappointing that despite being dragged through the courts time and again on its inadequate air quality plans, the government is dragging its feet by announcing yet another consultation.” She said Gove had issued more than 25 consultations since the 2017 general election, but none had yet produced new laws.

James Thornton, the CEO of the environmental lawyers ClientEarth who have defeated ministers three times in court, said: “Road transport is still the main source of illegal air pollution in our towns and cities. We need a national network of clean air zones (CAZs) to take the most polluting vehicles out of the most polluted areas.”

The government’s own research shows CAZs, in which cars are deterred from city centres by pollution charges, are by far the most effective solution to air pollution. But ministers refused to make them compulsory, instead making them a voluntary and last-resort option for local authorities.

Greenpeace and the British Lung Foundation both backed the call for CAZs. Paul Morozzo, at Greenpeace, also said proposed new powers for local government looked like ministers passing the buck: “It looks like local authorities are being handed responsibility without the clarity on where the resources will come from.”

Details of the government’s new proposals were not available. But on domestic wood and coal burning it said it would legislate to ensure “only the cleanest domestic fuels” will be on sale. This may include wood bearing the “Ready to Burn” logo which indicates low moisture content. Wood and coal burning in homes contributes almost 40% of emissions of small particulate pollution, PM2.5, which is especially damaging to health.

Ammonia from manure and fertilisers on fields blows into cities and is a significant contributor to particle pollution. Ministers want to require farmers to invest in better slurry control and fertiliser application, perhaps supported by grants from a revised farm subsidy scheme.

Particulate pollution is below EU limits in most parts of the UK, but it is above the stricter World Health Organization limits for 90% of the population. The government has now set a goal to halve the number of people living in such areas by 2025. Another action to help achieve this is “working with international partners to research and develop new standards” for tyres and brakes that shed fewer particles.

UK’s new air pollution strategy ‘hugely disappointing’, says Labour

A new clean air strategy published by the UK government has been criticised as “hugely disappointing” by the Labour party. Other groups said it did little to tackle the dirty diesel vehicles that are the main source of toxic air in urban areas.

The new strategy, announced on Tuesday by environment secretary, Michael Gove, aims to crack down on a wide range of pollutants. These include particulates from wet wood and coal burning in homes, ammonia emissions from farms and dust from vehicle tyres and brakes.

Ministers also want to give provide personalised pollution alerts to people and give local authorities new powers to cut pollution, all subject to public consultation.

The government said the new action would reduce the costs of air pollution to society by an estimated £1bn every year by 2020. The health costs of toxic air are currently estimated at £20bn a year, by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The new clean air strategy is a response to an EU directive on cutting harmful emissions. An air quality plan, published in July 2017, is related to a separate EU directive on cleaner air. The latter plan was condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors, and was ruled illegally poor in February, the third such high court defeat for ministers.

On Thursday, the government suffered another legal blow, with the UK referred to Europe’s highest court over its failure to tackle nitrogen dioxide pollution, which mostly comes from diesel vehicles.

Gove said: “Air quality has improved significantly since 2010 but 60 years on from the historic Clean Air Act a clear truth remains – air pollution is making people ill, shortening lives and damaging our economy and environment.

“This is why we are launching this clean air strategy, backed up with new primary legislation,” he said. “It sets out the comprehensive action required across all parts of government to improve air quality.”

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “Air pollution is contributing to a national health crisis. We have a responsibility to stop this issue at source. Today’s [strategy] does just that, taking a giant step towards cleaning up our air for good.”

However, Sue Hayman, the shadow environment secretary, said: “It’s hugely disappointing that despite being dragged through the courts time and again on its inadequate air quality plans, the government is dragging its feet by announcing yet another consultation.” She said Gove had issued more than 25 consultations since the 2017 general election, but none had yet produced new laws.

James Thornton, the CEO of the environmental lawyers ClientEarth who have defeated ministers three times in court, said: “Road transport is still the main source of illegal air pollution in our towns and cities. We need a national network of clean air zones (CAZs) to take the most polluting vehicles out of the most polluted areas.”

The government’s own research shows CAZs, in which cars are deterred from city centres by pollution charges, are by far the most effective solution to air pollution. But ministers refused to make them compulsory, instead making them a voluntary and last-resort option for local authorities.

Greenpeace and the British Lung Foundation both backed the call for CAZs. Paul Morozzo, at Greenpeace, also said proposed new powers for local government looked like ministers passing the buck: “It looks like local authorities are being handed responsibility without the clarity on where the resources will come from.”

Details of the government’s new proposals were not available. But on domestic wood and coal burning it said it would legislate to ensure “only the cleanest domestic fuels” will be on sale. This may include wood bearing the “Ready to Burn” logo which indicates low moisture content. Wood and coal burning in homes contributes almost 40% of emissions of small particulate pollution, PM2.5, which is especially damaging to health.

Ammonia from manure and fertilisers on fields blows into cities and is a significant contributor to particle pollution. Ministers want to require farmers to invest in better slurry control and fertiliser application, perhaps supported by grants from a revised farm subsidy scheme.

Particulate pollution is below EU limits in most parts of the UK, but it is above the stricter World Health Organization limits for 90% of the population. The government has now set a goal to halve the number of people living in such areas by 2025. Another action to help achieve this is “working with international partners to research and develop new standards” for tyres and brakes that shed fewer particles.

Ex-footballer Terry Butcher accuses British army of failing his son

The former England football captain Terry Butcher has accused the British army of failing his son, who died after developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Butcher told an inquest on Monday that Christopher, 35, had turned to alcohol and drugs after being discharged from the armed forces in April 2015, due to the mental health condition.

“Christopher passed away several months ago. But, in reality, the Chris that we all knew and loved had ceased to exist years before,” Butcher told Ipswich coroner’s court.

“Diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, his life spiralled downwards as the demons took control of his mind. In truth after intense tours of Iraq and Afghanistan he became a victim of war.

“These circumstances are all too familiar. Our country has a number of veterans suffering from the same condition, released from the armed forces too early and having to rely on an overloaded NHS that is ill-equipped and underfunded to cope.”

Butcher, who struggled to hold back tears during the hearing, said the armed forces’ duty of care towards personnel had been “discarded too easily, which has resulted in a growing number of our veterans turning to anything that might help including alcohol, drugs and suicide as a means of alleviating the flashbacks and nightmares”.

The inquest heard how Christopher, a former captain in the Royal Artillery, had been haunted by nightmares and flashbacks about the deaths of comrades and civilians in Afghanistan.

Butcher found his son’s body wedged between his bed and a wall when he went to check on him on the morning of 16 October last year at his home in Suffolk.

A postmortem failed to identify Christopher’s cause of death, but found he had an enlarged heart, which could have been caused by drug use. Toxicology tests revealed he had non-lethal levels of cocaine and heroin in his body, as well as prescription drugs he had been taking for several years. A makeshift crack pipe in a sunglasses case was also found in his room.

Suffolk’s assistant coroner, Dr Dan Sharpstone, concluded that Christopher died from an enlarged heart due to uncertain causes with a background of drug use and PTSD.

Butcher remembered his son as a man who had a “glittering career in the army ahead of him, a loving wife and dreams of having children of his own. His unnecessary death has deprived us of a wonderful son, husband, brother and grandson, friend and comrade”.

Sharpstone said: “When people serve in the armed forces, they give everything in the defence of our country and this may result in death or serious injury. However, it can also result in PTSD.”

  • In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Ex-footballer Terry Butcher accuses British army of failing his son

The former England football captain Terry Butcher has accused the British army of failing his son, who died after developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Butcher told an inquest on Monday that Christopher, 35, had turned to alcohol and drugs after being discharged from the armed forces in April 2015, due to the mental health condition.

“Christopher passed away several months ago. But, in reality, the Chris that we all knew and loved had ceased to exist years before,” Butcher told Ipswich coroner’s court.

“Diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, his life spiralled downwards as the demons took control of his mind. In truth after intense tours of Iraq and Afghanistan he became a victim of war.

“These circumstances are all too familiar. Our country has a number of veterans suffering from the same condition, released from the armed forces too early and having to rely on an overloaded NHS that is ill-equipped and underfunded to cope.”

Butcher, who struggled to hold back tears during the hearing, said the armed forces’ duty of care towards personnel had been “discarded too easily, which has resulted in a growing number of our veterans turning to anything that might help including alcohol, drugs and suicide as a means of alleviating the flashbacks and nightmares”.

The inquest heard how Christopher, a former captain in the Royal Artillery, had been haunted by nightmares and flashbacks about the deaths of comrades and civilians in Afghanistan.

Butcher found his son’s body wedged between his bed and a wall when he went to check on him on the morning of 16 October last year at his home in Suffolk.

A postmortem failed to identify Christopher’s cause of death, but found he had an enlarged heart, which could have been caused by drug use. Toxicology tests revealed he had non-lethal levels of cocaine and heroin in his body, as well as prescription drugs he had been taking for several years. A makeshift crack pipe in a sunglasses case was also found in his room.

Suffolk’s assistant coroner, Dr Dan Sharpstone, concluded that Christopher died from an enlarged heart due to uncertain causes with a background of drug use and PTSD.

Butcher remembered his son as a man who had a “glittering career in the army ahead of him, a loving wife and dreams of having children of his own. His unnecessary death has deprived us of a wonderful son, husband, brother and grandson, friend and comrade”.

Sharpstone said: “When people serve in the armed forces, they give everything in the defence of our country and this may result in death or serious injury. However, it can also result in PTSD.”

  • In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.