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Patrick Butler

Leading doctors and scientists have warned politicians against watering down plans to expand city-wide schemes aimed at reducing traffic pollution levels linked to thousands of deaths each year.

They urged politicians not to lose their nerve over plans to improve poor air quality, such as the expansion of the ultra low emission zone (Ulez) in London, which they said were central to tackling “unacceptably high” levels of illness and child deaths, and called for more ambitious policies to reduce toxic air.

The Conservative party in London has promised to scrap the Ulez expansion, despite a judge on Friday dismissing a legal bid by five Tory-controlled councils to overturn the scheme’s enlargement. There are concerns Labour’s national leadership may water down its support for clean air programmes for fear of a backlash from motorists and businesses hit by charges for driving polluting vehicles.

Dr Camilla Kingdon, the president of the Royal Society of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Action is needed in the form of clean air schemes as seen in some UK cities and nationwide, as well as clear air quality targets. At the end of the day, this is a child’s rights issue, and our children need to remain at the heart of these policies.”

Kingdon said she was unable to comment on the Ulez expansion scheme specifically but added: “As paediatricians, we see the impact of poor air quality on our patients every day. Clinically, there is no escaping this harsh truth: the UK has one of the highest prevalence of asthma in Europe and tragically unacceptably high rates of emergency admission and death in childhood.”

Mark Hayden, a London-based paediatric hospital consultant and a spokesperson for the health climate campaign group Ride for Their Lives, said: “Some of the children [I treat] would not be coming into the hospital at all if they didn’t live in a polluted city. I patch up those children and send them back to the ‘war zone’.”

He said the Ulez extension did not go far enough and urged politicians not to turn clean air initiatives, including low-traffic neighbourhoods and bans on wood-burning stoves, into political dividing lines. “I don’t think breathing clean air is a political issue, but making it into one is harming people. We need to stop politicising pollution,” he said.

Read article in Guardian