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Clearing the air

Clearing the air

🕔20.Jun 2018

Last week, Mayor Andy Street highlighted air quality as one of the issues which needs more attention when he set out the ‘State of the Region’. This week, proposals to consult on reducing air pollution in Birmingham were shared with Birmingham city council’s cabinet.

The Council paper sets out preferred measures for a Birmingham Clean Air Zone.

It is estimated that poor air quality is responsible for up to 900 premature deaths in Birmingham each year. Air pollution is linked to a wide range of illnesses and conditions, including cancer, diabetes, asthma, stroke and heart disease, as well as impacting on the development of children’s lungs.

The two pollutants causing most concern in Birmingham are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine airborne particulate matter (PM2.5).

Birmingham City Council is required by the Government to take action to meet legal air quality limits in the shortest possible time and, in order to achieve this, will need to introduce a Clean Air Zone by 2020. It is proposed that the Clean Air Zone should cover all roads within the A4540 Middleway ring road.

Under the proposals for the preferred Class D option, charges would apply to the most polluting vehicles which enter the Clean Air Zone, including buses, coaches, lorries, taxis and private hire vehicles, vans and private cars. A vehicle whose engine is clean enough would not have to pay anything.

The council is undertaking work to identify those most likely to be adversely affected by the introduction of a Clean Air Zone. The consultation will help to refine a package of measures that can be introduced to help mitigate the impact and support people to move to cleaner forms of transport.

Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment at Birmingham City Council, said:

Clean air is a basic human right and yet poor air quality is responsible for hundreds of early deaths in Birmingham each year. This is completely unacceptable and we cannot allow it to continue, which is why we are now looking to consult on plans for a Clean Air Zone in the city.

The biggest cause of air pollution is road transport, particularly diesel vehicles, so we need to take action to discourage the most polluting vehicles from entering the worst-hit parts of the city. If your vehicle meets nationally set engine emissions standards then you will not need to pay anything.

This is not about making money, but saving lives – in fact, in an ideal world, no one would have to pay a Clean Air Zone charge because everyone would be driving a low or zero-emission vehicle or walking, cycling or using public transport instead.

Of course, a Clean Air Zone is just one element of the wider work we are already doing to tackle air pollution in the long-term and this also includes making positive changes in the way we travel around our city.

We all have a part to play in ensuring that our children, their children and future generations to come enjoy longer, healthier lives because they have access to the clean air we are currently denying ourselves.

Birmingham Conservatives have called on the Labour council to drop plans to charge private vehicles up to £12.50 a day to travel to Birmingham city centre.  

Cllr Robert Alden, Leader of the Birmingham Conservative Group said

Now residents are seeing why the Labour Party refused to publish their plans before the election. Rather than coming up with an innovative plan to tackle pollution and ensure Birmingham hits the deadline to get our air clean by 2020, they have chosen to fall back on unimaginative taxing of private vehicles simply for going to work or shopping in the city centre.

The modelling work the Council has done has not looked at the impact of any of the options that could provide step change improvements in the quality of life and travel in this City. They have failed to consider building park and rides, urban freight consolidation sites, using the canals to take freight, improved public transport or putting in green infrastructure to clean our air.

Their blinkered solution of simply taxing people more has left Birmingham residents facing potential bills of over £2,800 a year just to travel to work. Under Labour clearly working in the city centre should be for the few not the many. It is clear for everyone to see that Labour’s travel tax will hurt those people who cannot afford to buy a modern car the most. The Council needs to be looking at actions to mitigate pollution and to clean up our air as well,  as research shows this is the most effective way of delivering clean air and it also protects residents from increased taxes.

Cllr Tim Huxtable, Conservative Transport lead added:

The Labour Council have decided to charge the maximum number of vehicles they possibly can. The Government Framework advised them against charging Euro 4 petrol and euro 6 diesel cars and advised the Council they should be looking to avoid charging any private vehicles. Labour have ignored this and gone for taxing the highest possible number of people. While Labours plan also does nothing to help tackle pollution in other locations like Local Centres and Schools and could make it worse as older vehicle fleets are sent to service none city centre locations.

Andy Street has taken a more emollient tone than his council colleagues. Writing in The Times today, he said:

This week Birmingham city council took the bold step of proposing a Clean Air Zone for the city, and residents have the opportunity to make their views known in the next few weeks on how they believe we should tackle the challenge in the city.

There will be difficult choices in this debate, but there is room for creativity and inspiration, particularly where, like urban green space, there is a benefit that people can see and feel today.

Mr Street said the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the wider region had its own part to play in tackling the problem. He said:

Air quality is a public health crisis which needs urgent action here in the West Midlands.

1,600 premature deaths each year in the West Midlands are caused by air pollution.

It’s sadly true that some of our roads have higher levels of pollution than bus depots in the region.

We need a ‘Clean Air Revolution’ to tackle this issue head-on. We have the opportunity to build a coalition of Government, councils, industry, universities and residents to lead the clean air agenda in the West Midlands, the UK and the world.

The Mayor said the WMCA and the wider region has a huge part to play in making this a success and delivering cleaner air for our people to breathe by:

  • Ensuring bus companies upgrade their buses to newer cleaner vehicles
  • Delivering the public transport improvements already started, reopening rail stations and improving services, extending the Midland Metro and improving bus routes
  • Encouraging more people to cycle and walk in the region
  • Supporting the development and rollout of clean electric vehicles in the West Midlands automotive industry
  • Fostering the development of new clean energy technologies in businesses and universities
  • Developing new urban green spaces across the region.

The Mayor added that the WMCA had to work with the world-class automotive industry here in the West Midlands.

Companies like Geely, GKN and Jaguar Land Rover have invested hundreds of millions of pounds in the development and production of electric cars, taxis and components in the West Midlands.

Our manufacturers have already developed some of the cleanest engines in the world, and they are improving all the time.

The Mayor said the Government also needed to play its part, and he was working with ministers to discuss the support needed to bring the ‘Clean Air Revolution’ about. This involved:

  • Funding electric vehicle charging infrastructure, upgrading bus engine technology and support for the scrappage of older vehicles
  • Helping cities and regions to invest in better public transport and new cycling & walking infrastructure
  • Providing Local Industrial Strategy funding to support the development of new electric and autonomous vehicles in the West Midlands.

He said:

Air quality and pollution affect us all. We all have a part to play in overcoming this challenge and I will work with Birmingham city council and the rest of the region to tackle the issue.

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