THE POLLUTION PROBLEM: Tyneside pollution proving fatal
Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council and chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, was speaking as leaders in Northumberland predicted a jobs and investment boom off the back of a major rail project for the county.
But while Coun Gannon welcomed the potential economic growth and job creation, he also claimed the health benefits could be just as vital to the region.
He said: “The most important thing is that we, as a society, face some real social challenges.
“The quality of the air in Tyneside is causing deaths and it needs to be improved – we’re unnecessarily killing people because of the excessive use of cars.
“People want to make the change, but we need to provide them with the tools to make that change.
“Too often the solution is a stick, increasing costs, prohibiting use, making life uncomfortable and punishing drivers.
“We have to provide a safe, clean and reliable alternative.”
So far, Government ministers have committed at least £34m to the Northumberland Line project to link Newcastle with Blyth and Ashington.
Previously known as the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line, it’s predicted completion by 2024 would see the return of passenger services for the first time since the 1960s.
Upgrades to 18 miles of track and the opening of new stations is expected to add up to £470m to the North East’s economy, while also saving the need for “hundreds of car journeys every day”.
And while rail operator Northern, which plans to run two services an hour on the route between 6am – 7.30pm, Monday – Saturday, will initially use diesel-powered trains, it hopes to eventually switch to a ‘greener, alternative fuel’.
Figures for 2017 suggested there were 630 deaths across the North East’s cities linked to the deadly toxin PM2.5 – 19 times the regional rate of deaths from traffic accidents.
Coun Gannon added: “Poor air quality contributes to early death, that is a self-evident fact.
“There’s about 400 premature deaths a year in Tyneside due to air quality, possibly more.”
Written by James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporter
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