UK’s most polluted cities urge Prime Minister to act on air quality
In a historic move, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the leaders of the five UK cities worst affected by air pollution have called on the Prime Minister to take urgent action to clean up the country’s toxic air.
Every year in Britain 40,000 people die early as a result of air pollution (1) and research from London demonstrates the resulting health effects disproportionately impact the most deprived communities (2).
For the first time, Sadiq Khan and the leaders of Derby, Nottingham, Leeds, Birmingham and Southampton have written to Theresa May urgently calling for:
- making vehicle manufacturers more accountable for emissions – with a zero-tolerance approach to malpractice, following the recent Volkswagen scandal;
- national minimum emissions standards for private hire vehicles to ensure local requirements are not undermined;
- greater regulation powers over the use of diesel generators;
- a new 21st century Clean Air Act which will update existing legislation;
- enshrining the ‘right to clean air’ in law after the UK leaves the European Union; and
- unlocking new powers for local authorities, particularly regarding limiting construction and river emissions.
The letter describes the government’s current £3 million fund for local authorities to clean up their air as “woefully inadequate” and criticises the uncertainty around funding for transport schemes for preventing accurate and detailed planning in the long-term.
It also underlines the fact air pollution is not a problem local authorities can solve alone, they need government to devolve powerful fiscal incentives such as Vehicle Excise Duty and create a national diesel vehicle scrappage fund.
It comes as the government prepares to consult on a new national air quality plan to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide as soon as possible, following the recent High Court ruling against its previous plan.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The quality of the air we breathe, both in London and in major cities across the UK, is killing thousands of people every year and is creating a national health emergency. As city leaders, we are doing what we can to tackle this problem, but the fact is we are fighting with one arm tied behind our backs and lasting progress will only be made if national government matches the ambitious action we are taking. The time for urgent action is now.”
Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Judith Blake, said: “Leeds City Council takes air quality very seriously and has been working on a number of initiatives to help tackle air pollution in the city. We are now calling on the government to give more support to Leeds, as well as the other cities identified by Defra as needing to implement a Clean Air Zone, through the introduction of new legislation around the better regulation of all types of emissions sources, alongside aligning key priorities with the introduction of Clean Air Zones.”
Leader of Derby City Council, Councillor Ranjit Banwait, said: “In 2015 Derby City Council was identified by DEFRA, along with four other cities, as having areas of air quality exceedance. The city council is lobbying government to provide the necessary resources to ensure that the city can make the necessary transition without impacting adversely on local services and to ensure that residents obtain the health and well-being benefits in the future.“
Leader of Southampton City Council, Councillor Simon Letts, said: “The quality of the air we breathe is an issue which affects everybody that lives in the city. We can only act on this issue with government support and along with the leaders of other affected areas I have written today to the Prime Minister requesting that action to improve air quality be prioritised.”
Leader of Birmingham City Council, Councillor John Clancy, said: "Air pollution is now a public health crisis in this country and we need real leadership from the Government. Our towns and cities are keen to tackle this issue but we must be given the tools and funding needed to secure the future health of our citizens. The time for action is now."
Leader of Nottingham City Council, Councillor Jon Collins, said: "Nottingham is already carrying out a wide range of measures to improve air quality, including investment in trams, electric buses and cycling infrastructure. We want not only to deliver a workable and effective Clean Air Zone by 2020, but also to take a joined-up approach by aligning a range of proposals to ensure we are tackling air pollution in Nottingham as effectively and comprehensively as possible - but we need Government support to help deliver our ambitions."
The Mayor of London has proposed to implement a wide-ranging package of measures to clean up London’s air, including a £10 toxicity charge – or ‘T-charge’ – for the most polluting vehicles later this year.
Notes to editors
(1) Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health: ‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’ (https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution)
(2) British Lung Foundation: ‘The Battle for Breath – the impact of lung disease in the UK’ (https://www.blf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/the-battle-for-breath-2016)
- The Mayor of London is implementing a wide-ranging package of measures to clean up London’s air, including:
- introducing a £10 charge for the most polluting vehicles in October;
- consulting on introducing the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) a year earlier than planned and then extending it up to the North and South Circular roads to cover more than 3.8 million people;
- spending more than £300 million transforming London's bus fleet by phasing out of pure diesel buses and a commitment to purchase only hybrid or zero-emission double decker buses from 2018;
- including £875 million in TfL’s business plan to deliver programme to tackle poor air quality (more than double that of his predecessor).
- Particulate matter (PM) is the solid and liquid particles suspended in the air, many of which can be hazardous. PM2.5 is matter measuring 2.5 micrometres or less and is known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular illness.
- Following the High Court ruling, it is likely further cities will be included in the government’s revised air quality plan.
Clean Air Zones
- Clean Air Zones will target areas of a city where air quality problems are most serious, by reducing pollution and encourage the replacement of old, polluting vehicles with modern, cleaner vehicles.
- In 2105, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton were identified by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as having breached legal limits for air quality.
- Last year, a public consultation was held about implementing Clean Air Zones in these five cities by 2020. The government is currently examining the responses.
Leeds City Council is introducing measures including free parking permits for ultra-low emission vehicles, public transport investment to reduce car usage and gathering funding for increased electric vehicle charging infrastructure.