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The Guardian view on air pollution: playing politics with the nation’s health

The high court shouldn’t have been asked to decide on this. But it has rightly ruled against the government’s latest efforts to delay action on air quality

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/27/the-guardian-view-on-air-pollution-playing-politics-with-the-nations-health

Thanks to this government’s intransigence about tackling air pollution, the battle to improve the quality of the air we breathe has played out not in the political arena, but in the courts. Time after time, the government has found itself on the wrong side of the law: first for its failure to meet legally binding European targets on harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions; then, for failing to produce an adequate plan to address these. Its latest delaying tactic has been to claim it could not meet this week’s court-imposed deadline for publishing a new draft plan, because of the “purdah” convention ruling out new government announcements in the run-up to an election.

And so it has fallen to judges yet again to take the government to task over its failure to act. Today’s ruling took apart the government’s case: its own purdah guidance sets out exemptions where public health is at risk. As the judge pointed out, why would it be better to have parties debating what ought to be in a draft air pollution plan, when it could be debating what is actually in it?

The government’s real motivations are political, not procedural. Having delayed taking meaningful action for seven years, it is clearly nervous about proposing any measures that hit drivers of diesel cars during an election campaign. Its political cowardice is astounding – and pointless. Public attitudes have shifted in recent years, and London’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, has made tackling air pollution one of his top priorities. The government is unlikely to face opposition to tougher action from any of its mainstream political opponents, and is enjoying double-digit poll leads.

Yet it continues to shirk its responsibilities to the nation’s public health. Today’s air pollution may be less visible than the smogs that settled over our cities in the 1950s, but it is a deadly killer, responsible for upwards of 40,000 premature deaths per year. London breached its annual air pollution limit just five days into 2017, and legal limits were easily surpassed in the vast majority of local authorities. The effects are particularly pernicious for children whose lungs are still developing.

The human cost makes the government’s latest attempts to delay a disgrace. The two-month extension it was seeking for its final plan could have meant thousands of avoidable premature deaths, all in service of not wanting to jeopardise a marginal number of votes in an election that it is on course to win handsomely. It’s a sick calculus.

The good news is that air pollution is easier to tackle than other environmental and public health challenges. Unlike climate change, it is relatively localised: city-scale actions to address pollution levels can have a marked effect on their air quality. Much (though by no means all) of the problem comes down to emissions from diesel vehicles and, to a greater extent than in other areas of public health, consumers are highly responsive to financial incentives. The irony is that we know this because many have switched from petrol to diesel as a result of sweeteners introduced back when diesel was thought to be more environmentally friendly due to its lower carbon emissions.

But heavy lobbying from the car industry in Westminster and Brussels has staved off firm action. European emissions tests for diesel cars have been far easier to manipulate than in the US; as a result, 97% of modern diesel cars exceed the official limit for NOx pollution. Behind the scenes, the British government has tried to block tougher testing. It’s a familiar story: the government similarly watered down plans to tackle childhood obesity in the face of special pleading from the food and drink industry.

The high court ruling puts the ball back in the government’s court. It should choose to accept it, rather than appeal. But either way, it has been exposed as a government willing to privilege marginal political advantage and the lobbying efforts of big business over the health of the nation.

UK landmarks join big switch-off for Earth Hour

People are being urged to join UK landmarks and famous sites around the world as they switch off their lights for an hour on Saturday night to back action on climate change.

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/uk-landmarks-join-big-switchoff-for-earth-hour-35564205.html

Despite the terror attack in Westminster on Wednesday, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are joining more than 270 landmarks across the UK in switching off the lights for conservation charity WWF’s Earth Hour.

Buckingham Palace, Blackpool Tower, Brighton Pier, the Senedd Building in Cardiff, the Kelpies sculpture in Falkirk and Edinburgh Castle are among those also taking part.

Starting in Samoa and ending 24 hours later in The Cook Islands, people in 184 countries will send a message calling for action to protect the planet by tackling climate change, WWF said.

Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, New York’s Empire State Building, the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow, the Egyptian Pyramids and Tokyo Tower will be switching off the lights during their Earth Hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm.

Members of the public are also being encouraged to take part by switching off their lights for the hour.

Colin Butfield, director of campaigns at WWF, said: “Today, hundreds of millions of people will be showing global unity on climate change during Earth Hour. Climate change is impacting us here and now.

“We are seeing it across the globe, from the Great Barrier Reef suffering mass bleaching for an unprecedented second year in a row, to more severe weather in Britain.

“Following the tragic events in London earlier this week, we are inspired and grateful to hear that the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben will be switching off their lights to show support for global action on climate change.”

He added: “Earth Hour is the world’s biggest climate change event. All you have to do is switch off your lights for one hour to join hundreds of millions around the world to send a clear signal that we must act and we must act now.”

As well as the big switch off, people are kicking off Earth Hour in various ways including a pedal-powered cinema night arranged by Exeter University students on Gylly beach and a musical display at the Senedd.

Lung disease costs the United Kingdom £11bn every year – report

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/lung-disease-costs-united-kingdom-11bn-every-report-015300294.html

New figures show lung disease is costing the UK more than £11bn every year, prompting criticism the NHS and governments are not doing enough to tackle one of the country’s biggest killers.

A report by the British Lung Foundation (BLF) says, despite such a large healthcare bill for respiratory conditions, there has been little change in mortality rates over the last 10 years.

The Foundation says 115,000 people die from lung disease every year – one person every five minutes.

More than 12 million people are living with a lung condition in the UK.

It also claims the UK has the highest mortality rates for children with asthma in Europe.

According to the BLF, of the £11.1bn that lung disease costs every year, £9.9bn is spent by the NHS.

A further £1.2bn is lost in the wider economy through things like days off work.

There are calls for the governments and NHS in both England and Scotland to create special taskforces for lung health, and produce new five-year strategies for tackling lung disease.

Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, Medical Adviser for the British Lung Foundation, told Sky News air pollution is a major part of the problem.

He said: “In this country, the estimate from the Royal College of Physicians is that there are about 40,000 excess deaths per year caused by air pollution and one of the things in parallel with a respiratory task-force would be a new Clean Air Act.

“We need for the Government to be setting strong binding targets and actions to reduce this air quality problem.”

At the Hospice of St Francis in Hertfordshire, a group of patients with pulmonary fibrosis take part in a fortnightly exercise group.

Their condition will get worse. Some will take years to deteriorate and others will worsen more quickly.

One of the patients, Peter Bryce, runs the Pulmonary Fibrosis Trust. He told Sky News groups like his offer vital support.

“Coming here is like joining a family. The people understand the nature of this illness and it’s easy to relate to them and share experiences and support each other. It’s brilliant,” he said.

The Hospice only receives 20% of its funding from the NHS – but it is this sort of support group campaigners want to see more of to help those with lung conditions.

The Department of Health insists it is doing more to tackle lung conditions.

A DoH spokesperson told Sky News: “It is plainly wrong to suggest that tackling lung disease is not a priority – government research funding has risen to over £25 million, our policies have helped reduce smoking rates to a record low and Public Health England has extended its successful ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms.”

Tube ‘higher than driving’ for air pollution, study finds

Travelling on the Underground exposes commuters to more than eight times as much air pollution as those who drive to work, a university study has found.

Monitors worn by commuters found those who travelled on the Tube were exposed to 68mg of harmful pollutant PM10, whereas car drivers had 8.2mg.

The University of Surrey study found when train windows were open, commuters were exposed to more pollutants.

Drivers were not as exposed because cars filter the pollutants out.

But although drivers are not exposed to as many pollutants, the types given out by cars are more harmful than the ones found on the Underground.

‘Environmental injustice’

The study found PM levels were highest on trains on the Victoria and Northern lines, because they all had their windows open, heightening the effect of pollutants when going through tunnels.

The study did not include people who commute on foot or cycle.

The study also found:

• Passengers on the District Line in trains with closed windows were exposed to far lower concentrations of PM than those travelling on trains with open windows on the same line
• Bus commuters were exposed to an average of 38mg of PM10, roughly half as much as Tube passengers but five times as much as cars
• The morning commute has more pollutants than the afternoon and evening journeys
• Although car drivers were the least exposed, they caused the most pollutants.

Dr Prashant Kumar, who led the study, said: “We found that there is definitely an element of environmental injustice among those commuting in London, with those who create the most pollution having the least exposure to it.

“The relatively new airtight trains with closed windows showed a significant difference to the levels of particles people are exposed to over time, suggesting that operators should consider this aspect during any upgrade of Underground trains, along with the ways to improve ventilation in underground tunnels.”

High court rules UK government plans to tackle air pollution are illegal

Court rules for second time in 18 months that the government is not doing enough to combat the national air pollution crisis

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/02/high-court-rules-uk-government-plans-to-tackle-air-pollution-are-illegal

The government’s plan for tackling the UK’s air pollution crisis has been judged illegally poor at the high court, marking the second time in 18 months that ministers have lost in court on the issue.

The defeat is a humiliation for ministers who by law must cut the illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide suffered by dozens of towns and cities in the “shortest possible time”.

Legal NGO ClientEarth, which brought the case, argued that current plans ignore many measures that could help achieve this, placing too much weight on costs. On Wednesday Mr Justice Garnham agreed. He also said ministers knew that over-optimistic pollution modelling was being used, based on flawed lab tests of diesel vehicles rather than actual emissions on the road.

The government said it would not appeal against the decision and agreed in court to discuss with ClientEarth a new timetable for more realistic pollution modelling and the steps needed to bring pollution levels down to legal levels. The parties will return to court in a week but if agreement cannot be reached, the judge could impose a timetable upon the government.

Air pollution causes 50,000 early deaths and £27.5bn in costs every year, according to the government’s own estimates, and was called a “public health emergency” by MPs in April.

James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth, said: “The time for legal action is over. I challenge Theresa May to take immediate action now to deal with illegal levels of pollution and prevent tens of thousands of additional early deaths in the UK. The high court has ruled that more urgent action must be taken. Britain is watching and waiting, prime minister.”

He said the increased action required would very likely include bigger and tougher clean air zones in more cities and other measure such as scrappage schemes for the dirtiest vehicles: “The government will have to be tougher on diesel.”

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who took part in the case against the government, said: “Today’s ruling lays the blame at the door of the government for its complacency in failing to tackle the problem quickly and credibly. In so doing they have let down millions of people the length and breadth of the country.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Improving air quality is a priority for this government and we are determined to cut harmful emissions. Our plans have always followed the best available evidence – we have always been clear that we are ready to update them if necessary. Whilst our huge investment in green transport initiatives and plans to introduce clean air zones [in six cities] around the country will help tackle this problem, we accept the court’s judgment. We will now carefully consider this ruling, and our next steps, in detail.”

ClientEarth defeated the government on the same issue at the supreme court in April 2015. Ministers were then ordered to draw up a new action plan, but now that new plan has also been found to be illegal.

Documents revealed during the latest case showed the Treasury had blocked plans to charge diesel cars to enter towns and cities blighted by air pollution, concerned about the political impact of angering motorists. Both the environment and transport departments recommended changes to vehicle excise duty rates to encourage the purchase of low-pollution vehicles, but the Treasury also rejected that idea.

Documents further showed that the government’s plan to bring air pollution down to legal levels by 2020 for some cities and 2025 for London had been chosen because that was the date ministers thought they would face European commission fines, not which they considered “as soon as possible”.

There had been a draft government plan for 16 low emission zones, which polluting vehicles are charged to enter, in cities outside London but the number was cut to just five on cost grounds.

All these proposals will now be revisited. Thornton said a national network of clean air zones needed to be in place by 2018. “If you put in clean air zones, it works overnight.”

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “We urgently need a new clean air act that restricts the most polluting vehicles from our urban areas and protects everyone’s lung health – air pollution affects all of us.”

Sam Hall, at conservative thinktank Bright Blue, said there should be more power and funding devolved to local authorities to enable all English cities to set up clean air zones and more support for electric cars.

Keith Taylor, Green party MEP, said: “The failure highlighted by the judge today is as much moral as it is legal: ministers have displayed an extremely concerning attitude of indifference towards their duty to safeguard the health of British citizens.

Air pollution could be to blame for hundreds of traffic accidents, warn researchers

Air pollution could be responsible for hundreds of car accidents a year, according to the London School of Economics.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/10/03/air-pollution-could-be-to-blame-for-hundreds-of-traffic-accident/

A study looking a five years of data showed that when levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) rise just one microgramme per cubic metre, the number of collisions rises by two per cent.

Although it might seem that effect could be explained by more traffic on the roads, and therefore more pollution and more accidents, the researchers found that the increase remained even when adjusting for the extra traffic

Instead, they believe that the toxic air impairs driver fitness, while watery eyes and an itchy nose could also be distracting for motorists.

A recent study found that air pollution inside a car can be more than double that on the outside because the NO2 builds up in a small space.

Lead researcher Lutz Sager of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE said: “Although it has already been shown that air pollution adversely affects human health and the ability to carry out mental tasks, this is the first published study that assesses the impact on road safety.

“The analysis identifies a causal effect of air pollution on road accidents, but I can only speculate about the cause of the link.

“My main theory is that air pollution impairs drivers’ fitness. However, other explanations are possible such as air pollution causing physical distractions, perhaps an itching nose, or limiting visibility.”

Air pollution can result from many different toxins, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, small particulate matter and ozone. But it was NO2 which was found to have the biggest impact.

Mr Sager, a postdoctoral candidate, divided the UK into a grid of 32 areas each covering about 4784 square miles (7700 sq km) and mapped accidents to the level of air pollution between 2009 and 2014 provided by the Department for the Environment (Defra)

He found a rise in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide of just one microgramme per cubic metre above the daily average is sufficient to increase the average number of accidents each day by two per cent, with the biggest effect occurring in cities.

Mr Sager calculated that in the area containing west London, which suffers from some of the highest levels of air pollution, a cut of about 30 per cent in the concentration of NO2 could reduce the number of road accidents every day by almost 5 per cent.

Levels of NO2 in polluted areas of London can reach beyond 97 microgrammes per cubic metre on average.

There are around 150,000 collisions in which someone is injured in Britain every year so preventing just two per cent of crashes could avert thousands of accidents.

Mr Sager added: “Whatever the exact mechanisms responsible, the robust finding of a significant effect of air quality on road safety is important given the high cost of road traffic accidents through damage to vehicles and deaths and injuries to people every day.

“Although this analysis has used data for the United Kingdom, I think my findings are relevant to other parts of the world. These additional costs from traffic accidents strengthen the case for reducing air pollution, particularly in congested cities.

“My analysis suggests that the causal effect of air pollution on road traffic accidents measured in this study more likely stems from nitrogen dioxide or other pollutant gases rather than particulate matter.”

However other experts were more sceptical about the link between air pollution and accidents.

AA president Edmund King said: “If you think about areas which are high in air pollution they are a lot busier, with taxis and buses and lorries and where you have a greater mix of traffic you tend to have more accidents.

“It would be hard to tease apart whether a crash is caused by a driver wiping his eyes because of pollution or the type of traffic which is to blame.

“If you look at Mumbai and New Delhi where you have some of the worst air pollution, yes you have far more accidents, but it is also far more chaotic.

“So I think this research may be far-fetched as I think it would be very difficult to prove that a driver’s fitness is impaired by pollution.”

The results of the study are published today as a working paper, and will be submitted for peer review in the coming weeks.

Alzheimer’s could be caused by toxic air pollution particles found in brain tissue

Abundance of magnetite in brains of people from Mexico City and Manchester described as “dreadfully shocking”

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/alzheimers-toxic-air-pollution-particles-brain-tissue-magnetite-barbara-maher-a7227891.html

Minute magnetic particles typically found in air pollution have been detected in “abundant” quantities in human brain tissue for the first time.

The tiny particles of iron oxide, known as magnetite, are toxic and it has been suggested they could play a role in causing or hastening the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, in which brain tissue samples from 37 people were collected from those who had lived in Mexico City and in Manchester in the UK, is the first to prove magnetite particles found in air pollution have made their way into the brain.

Magnetite naturally occurs in angular formations in the brain. But for every one natural angular particle, researchers found as many as 100 smooth, spherical particles.

The smooth shape of the observed magnetite particles is characteristic of high temperature formation, such as from vehicle (particularly diesel) engines, power stations or open fires, researchers said.

The toxic magnetite particles disrupt normal cellular functions in the brain by causing oxidative stress, and by the creation of unstable free radicals – particles which damage essential structures in brain cells.

Though no definite link between magnetite and Alzheimer’s has been established, previous studies have found a correlation between high quantities of the compound and the disease in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.

The study was led by scientists at Lancaster University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The World Health Organisation warned as many as three million premature deaths every year were the result of air pollution.

In the UK it is thought as many as 50,000 people die each year due to air pollution. A further 520,000 are affected by Alzheimer’s, a common form of dementia.

Physicist Barbara Maher, co-director of the Centre for Environmental Magnetism and Paleomagnetism at Lancaster University said in a statement: “Our results indicate that magnetite nanoparticles in the atmosphere can enter the human brain, where they might pose a risk to human health, including conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings, especially next to busy roads, and which are formed by combustion or frictional heating from vehicle engines or brakes.”

Speaking to the BBC she added: “It’s dreadfully shocking. When you study the tissue you see the particles distributed between the cells and when you do a magnetic extraction there are millions of particles, millions in a single gram of brain tissue – that’s a million opportunities to do damage.”

Professor David Allsop, a specialist in Alzheimer’s at the University of Lancaster and co-author of the study, said: “This finding opens up a whole new avenue for research into a possible environmental risk factor for a range of different brain diseases.”

Geophysicist Joe Kirschvink at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who first detected naturally formed magnetite particles in the brain 25 years ago, told the journal Science, he believes the presence of the particle in the brain is “disturbing”.

He said: “Once you start getting larger volumes of [environmental] magnetite, the chemical reactivity goes way up.

“That nanoparticles of industrially generated magnetite are able to make their way into the brain tissues is disturbing.”

Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told the Press Association: “Little is known about the role of magnetite nanoparticles in the brain and whether their magnetic properties influence brain function.

“It’s interesting to see further research investigating the presence of this mineral in the brain, but it’s too early to conclude that it may have a causal role in Alzheimer’s disease or any other brain disease.

“We know that air pollution can have a negative impact on certain aspects of human health, but we can’t conclude from this study that magnetite nanoparticles carried in air pollution are harmful to brain health.”

Policymakers should take note of the results, Professor Maher told Science.

“It’s an unfortunately plausible risk factor, and it’s worth taking precautions. Policymakers have tried to account for this in their environmental regulations, but maybe those need to be revised,” she said.

England’s plastic bag usage drops 85% since 5p charge introduced

Number of single-use bags handed out dropped to 500m in first six months since charge, compared with 7bn the previous year

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/30/england-plastic-bag-usage-drops-85-per-cent-since-5p-charged-introduced

The number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England has plummeted by more than 85% after the introduction of a 5p charge last October, early figures suggest.

More than 7bn bags were handed out by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge, but this figure plummeted to slightly more than 500m in the first six months after the charge was introduced, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

The data is the government’s first official assessment of the impact of the charge, which was introduced to help reduce litter and protect wildlife – and the expected full-year drop of 6bn bags was hailed by ministers as a sign that it is working.

The charge has also triggered donations of more than £29m from retailers towards good causes including charities and community groups, according to Defra. England was the last part of the UK to adopt the 5p levy, after successful schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries, but smaller shops and paper bags are not included. There are also exemptions for some goods, such as raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, seeds and flowers and live fish.

Around 8m tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the marine environment. Experts estimate that plastic is eaten by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds.

The environment minister, Therese Coffey, said: “Taking 6bn plastic bags out of circulation is fantastic news for all of us,. It will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic taking hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill sites.

“It shows small actions can make the biggest difference, but we must not be complacent, as there is always more we can all do to reduce waste and recycle what we use.”

The charge was introduced to try to influence consumer behaviour after the number of carriers bags given out by seven major supermarkets in England rose by 200min 2014 to exceed 7.6bn – the equivalent of 140 per person and amounting to a total of 61,000 tonnes of plastic.

Matt Davies, chief executive of the UK’s largest retailer Tesco said: “The government’s bag charge has helped our customers [in England] reduce the number of bags they use by 30m each week, which is great news for the environment.”

Tesco expects its Bags of Help scheme to provide more than £20m in the first year to local environmental projects.

Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down, but plastic drinks bottles and disposable coffee cups are now being seen as a huge challenge in protecting the environment.

The results of the Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach cleanup in 2015 showed that the amount of rubbish dumped on UK beaches rose by a third compared with the previous year. The number of plastic drinks bottles found were up 43% on 2014 levels.

“There is always more that we can do,” said Dr Sue Kinsey, a technical specialist for waste at the Marine Conservation Society. “We encourage everyone to join in on our Great British Beach Clean this September to help keep our coastlines clean.”

Andrew Pendleton, of Friends of the Earth, said: “The plummeting plastic bag use demonstrates the huge benefits just a small change in our everyday habits can make. It means less damaging plastic finding its inevitable way into our waterways and countryside. This is a massive boon for nature and wildlife.”

He added: “With attention now turning to the millions of non-recyclable coffee cups that go to landfill and to oversized boxes and excess packaging as a by-product of online shopping, the government and forward-thinking businesses have a golden chance to cut waste and reduce resource use in a sensible way that consumers welcome.”

At the time of the launch, the government forecast that the charge would reduce use of single-use carrier bags by up to 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street. It is also expected to save £60m in litter cleanup costs.

Plastic facts

• 6bn single use plastic bags would cover an area of about 900,000,000m2, over three times the area of Birmingham.
• 6bn bags laid end-to-end it would stretch about 3m km, or 75 times around the world.
• 6bn bags are approximately equivalent to the weight of 300 blue whales, 300,000 sea turtles or 3m pelicans.

Hong Kong Kowloon firm to buy 500 coaches from Wrightbus

Ballymena’s Wrightbus is celebrating after securing a multi-million pound order for 500 buses.

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/news/hong-kong-kowloon-firm-to-buy-500-coaches-from-wrightbus-34844488.html

2016-06-30_bus_22429627_I1

The company, which employs 2,000 people in Co Antrim, will be supplying the vehicles to the Kowloon Motor Bus Company in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories area.

There are already 500 Wright buses on the regions’ roads following earlier deals.

Company chairman and co-founder William Wright revealed news of the latest multimillion-pound contract win in an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Wright, who created the company with his father Robert in 1946, said: “Hong Kong can easily buy buses from China, but they come to us (when they want) quality.”

While he declined to reveal the total value of the deal, he admitted that it came to “quite a bit of money”.

Mr Wright said he was happy with the order and also happy with the outcome of the EU referendum.

The business boss, one of the few industry leaders in Northern Ireland to publicly back a Brexit, condemned the banks’ and stock markets’ “hysterical” reaction to the result.

“When it comes down to it, the European Union has just been about a trade deal – although some of the countries have been trying to make it another America of federal states,” he insisted.

Mr Wright also claimed that EU laws on cigarette packaging had directly resulted in the closure of tobacco giant JTI Gallaher’s factory in Ballymena. The plant is to shut completely next year, although lay-offs have already started.

Tyre maker Michelin is also to close its local plant in 2018, with the loss of 860 jobs.

“What bugs me is that 1,000 people in Ballymena have lost their jobs in tobacco manufacturing at JTI because the EU has stated you can no longer buy 10-packs of cigarettes,” the Wrightbus chairman said.

“That’s supposedly to stop young people smoking, but I’ve checked out prices. A pack of 10 would have cost £3.69 and 20 would cost £6.89. I don’t think anything would stop a young person who wants to smoke from paying an extra £3.”

Returning to the implications of a Brexit, he maintained he was confident that the UK would be able to negotiate strong trade deals with the remaining EU member states.

“German car manufacturers send 20% of their output to the UK, and others, like Renault and Peugeot are in the same situation,” Mr Wright said.

“Those countries will want a decent trade deal as much as the UK (will want one). It’s not sensible for them to want to punish the UK.”

The leading businessman also told how worries over immigration had influenced his pro-Brexit stance. “I do think immigration should be held at a reasonable level,” he said, adding that he was concerned that many immigrants arrived without essential skills.

However, he revealed that his company employed a number of Romanians and said: “We don’t discriminate – all we look for are skilled people.”

Dismissing fears that local firms would suffer in the wake of the EU results, Mr Wright insisted: “We’ve learned ourselves to take these things and find a way around them.”

He also said he was looking forward to meeting London Mayor Sadiq Khan – the successor to Leave campaigner Boris Johnson, who also bought 1,000 buses from his firm.

“I think I will have a lot in common with him,” he added. “Wrightbus started with the two of us in a tin shed, so I know all about austerity – and Sadiq’s parents came over from Pakistan. His father was a bus driver. They had a tough time, but they made it.”

The Wrightbus chairman told how his company did limited business in Europe and had sold only eight buses – to a Dutch customer – there in recent years.

He said most European bus companies were State-owned “and don’t want to take chances and try anything new”, but added: “We have salespeople looking at Europe regularly.”

Rather than focusing on the continent, the company makes many of its sales in Great Britain and the Republic, also exporting vehicles to China, Hong Kong, Singapore and India.

Wrights Group is Ballymena’s biggest employer and with all the closures will soon be its last significant manufacturer.

In its latest results, the company almost more than doubled pre-tax profits to £11.6m on turnover of £297m.

EU nations refuse to back limited licence for potentially cancercausing weedkiller

Scores of potentially carcinogenic weedkillers remain for sale across UK and Europe despite European Union nations refusing to back a limited extension of pesticide glyphosate’s licence for use.

A compromise proposal to renew the licence for glyphosate for 12-18 months yesterday failed to win support at the EU executive. Support of 65% was required, but reports said seven states abstained, 20 backed the proposal and one voted against.

Two earlier meetings in 2016 failed to extend the licence for up to 15 years, which led to the compromise and much shorter period being offered.

There are contradictory findings on the carcinogenic risks of glyphosate, which is a component of weedkillers commonly sold by UK and European retailers, which has placed it amid the scrutiny of EU and US politicians, regulators, researchers and consumer groups.

The EU executive hopes a pending study by the EU’s Agency for Chemical Products will allay concerns. European commissioners are due to disucss the matter again today.

The current EU licence for glyphosate expires 30 June.

In the absence of a majority decision, the EU executive could submit its proposal to an appeal committee of political representatives from member states within a month.

If there was again no verdict reached, the European Commission could adopt its own proposal.