Today’s Sheffield City Council meeting was pretty dramatic: Green councillor Alison Teal was asked to leave for her “defamatory” remarks about Cllr Bryan Lodge, and then the Lib Dems left in protest at Cllr Teal’s exclusion. The context for this drama, as so often in Sheffield’s council chambers, was a debate about the council’s unnecessary felling of street trees.
Another, related issue is slowly climbing up the political agenda in Sheffield: air pollution. Eamonn Ward was at the council meeting to present the Let Sheffield Breathe petition, which had gained 1,220 signatures by the time he spoke. He pointed out that Sheffield’s previous air pollution action plan was for 2012-2015, and a new one is urgently needed. It is estimated that air pollution causes 500 premature deaths in Sheffield every year. The old action plan was supposed to reduce the number of deaths, but failed. Eamonn also mentioned the failure to mitigate the impact of the M1 and added that Darnall councillors will know how bad it is because it’s their area.
Mazher Iqbal, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure and Transport, responded: “It’s a topic of rising interest, but has always been a key priority for this administration.” Cllr Iqbal himself represents Darnall ward, which includes Tinsley, one of the city’s worst areas for air pollution.
Today's Guardian splash was the news that thousands of British schools and nurseries are exposed to illegal levels of air pollution, and Sheffield is no exception. Tinsley Junior School was recently relocated in order to move pupils away from the pollution caused by the M1. Cllr Iqbal said that he had supported the move, and criticised the "huge" opposition that slowed down the process.
Air quality is a challenge everywhere with strong economies, not just Sheffield. We want everything on the table so we can decide what meets Sheffield’s needs. We set out our sustainability vision at the last meeting; everyone should read it. In the coming weeks and months we’ll be putting together a plan.