Anti-pollution activists stage protest at Volkswagen's UK headquarters
Doctors and anti-pollution activists have blockaded the UK headquarters of Volkswagen as the campaign to highlight the country’s air pollution crisis gathers pace.
Hundreds of staff were prevented from getting into VW’s head office in Milton Keynes by doctors and other medics who, with Greenpeace activists, set up “sick bays” at entrances to highlight the damage VW diesel vehicles are doing to people’s health.
Aarash Saleh, a doctor in respiratory medicine who is at the protest, said: “Diesel pollution is causing horrendous suffering across the UK and storing up a lifetime of troubled health for our kids. If you could see it, diesel would be banned tomorrow.”
Greenpeace, which is organising Monday’s demonstration, said VW produced more diesel cars than any other manufacturer in the UK and urged it to go 100% electric.
Mel Evans, a clean air campaigner for the environmental group, said: “As the UK’s biggest seller of diesel cars, Volkswagen is complicit in an air pollution crisis that’s filling up emergency departments and GP surgeries.
“Volkswagen sold us a lie about diesel being clean. Its diesel addiction is seriously harming people’s health.”
He added: “Volkswagen must face up to its responsibility for deadly air pollution and commit to end diesel production now.”
A Greenpeace spokeswoman said the activists had ended their protest in the afternoon after Volkswagen agreed to a meeting with the group, something it had previously refused to do.
Volkswagen was caught cheating on emissions tests by using a defeat device designed to reduce emissions in test conditions. More than 1.2m vehicles sold in the UK were fitted with the system and the company is now facing the largest group litigation action in UK history.
Monday’s protest comes amid signs of a growing militancy among environmental activists as the urgency of the issues – from climate change to air pollution – becomes more apparent.
Earlier this year, several campaigners were imprisoned after blocking roads in London to highlight the issue of air pollution; in June 12 protesters went on hunger strike over the government’s plans to expand Heathrow and last year Greenpeace seized a cargo ship heading to the UK that was packed with VW cars.
Monday’s protest highlights growing concern about illegal levels of air pollution in the UK and its impact on human health – particularly that of children. Earlier this month, a medical expert said the hospital admissions of a girl who died from an asthma attack at the age of nine showed a “striking association” with spikes in illegal levels of air pollution around her home in London.
Government figures also show a steep rise in the number of deaths from asthma, which experts say are likely to be fuelled by worsening air quality.
Several studies have linked air pollution to a range of deadly conditions including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia.
A Volkswagen spokesman said the company was aware of the protest and that the matter was being handled by police. He added that the company had “launched the most comprehensive electrification initiative in the automotive industry, Roadmap E” and would bring 80 new electric vehicle models to its range by 2025.
“Roadmap E brings a €20bn investment to electric vehicle technology with the goal of 25% of Volkswagen Group vehicle production comprising electrified vehicles by 2025 and 50% by 2030,” he added.