A minute’s silence in solidarity with the people of Manchester marked the start of the special General Election meeting on the environment that Eastbourne Friends of the Earth and Eastbourne United Nations Association co-hosted at Eastbourne Town Hall on Tuesday May 23rd, the day after the Manchester Arena bombing.
The minute’s silence was followed by a strong condemnation of the terrorists, delivered by representatives of the local Bangladeshi community, who went on to talk about an environmental crisis in Bangladesh caused by recent flash floods containing high levels of pollutants from outside of Bangladesh, bringing home the fact that environmental issues know no borders and often need global solutions.
The meeting would have included a hustings in which all of the local parliamentary candidates would have attended, but that was cancelled due to the national political parties suspending their election campaigning because of the bombing.
Special guests at the meeting were Brenda Pollack, Regional Co-ordinator of Friends of the Earth, and Richard from Easy Pedal Bikes in Eastbourne. Brenda explained what the key environmental issues were in this General Election, such as biodiversity loss, climate change, and air pollution. She also outlined some of the key questions people could ask of their local candidates about these issues. Richard explained what electric bikes could do and why they were such a beneficial way of encouraging clean, efficient, healthy transportation.
One issue in particular was prominent at the meeting: local air pollution from local diesel traffic. According to research, 135 people die prematurely in Eastbourne every year due to air pollution of all types, and 40,000 people a year die prematurely from air pollution in the UK as a whole. Ideas raised at the meeting for dealing with local air pollution included: replacing diesel buses with solar-powered buses, the introduction of a Park & Ride scheme, the creation of a Clean Air Zone for the most polluted areas of the town centre, and the promotion of electric vehicles generally that are powered by lots more renewable energy installations in the local area. Indeed, the point was made that Eastbourne, being one the sunniest places in the UK should have a lot more of its roof spaces covered with solar panels, especially on commercial warehouses, which could help turn the town into a Solar Hub for the Sussex coast.
Andrew Durling, Co-ordinator of Eastbourne Friends of the Earth, reported on the results of an air quality monitoring exercise carried out recently by the group, in which 10 nitrogen dioxide monitors were placed around the town for 2 weeks before being sealed and sent off to a science laboratory for analysis. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is one of the most toxic elements of diesel fumes from vehicle exhausts. The results indicated that all the monitors picked up NO2 pollution, and that a stretch of Seaside Road, directly outside a primary school, was above the EU legal limit for NO2 pollution. Andrew Durling later told local reporters:
“The results of this citizen science initiative by Friends of the Earth confirms that dangerous air pollution is above legal limits in at least one part of Eastbourne. This indicates that more extensive monitoring of local air pollution should take place and that there is an urgent need to investigate practical ways of improving local air quality. We all deserve clean air. Dealing with the public health emergency that dirty air represents would greatly improve people’s health and well-being. Eastbourne Friends of the Earth hopes that all local parliamentary candidates will address this issue in their campaigning, and our group will be talking with Eastbourne Borough Council after the General Election to look at this issue in more depth”.
Eastbourne Friends of the Earth has prepared an interactive map showing where it placed its pollution monitors and what data the monitors collected. The map can be seen here.
More information about dirty air and how to tackle it can be found at: https://www.foe.co.uk/clean-air
The meeting concluded with a candlelit vigil in support of Manchester on the steps of the town hall.
The questions Friends of the Earth would like all parliamentary candidates to answer are here: https://www.foe.co.uk/general-election
A full video recording of the meeting can be seen here.