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Our Comment: Brum Breathes – the Clean Air Zone

The consultation into the proposed Clean Air Zone (CAZ) by Birmingham City Council closed on 17 August with the city, and several others, being required by Government to introduce the CAZ from January 2020. The Council will now develop the full business case for the local plan by 15 September for review by the Government. Our offices are located within the CAZ and we attended a business workshop on the proposed CAZ on the 9 August to find out more, share our views and hear those of other organisations affected by the plans.

The Clean Air Zone

The Clean Air Zone is an area where numerous targeted actions will be taken to improve air quality and reduce all types of air pollution, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter, so that people breathe in less  pollutants. The proposed CAZ includes all roads within the A4540 Middleway ring road (but not the ring road itself). Within the CAZ short and long term improvement measures will be introduced to improve air quality including:

  • Review traffic measures to minimise idling and smooth vehicle flows
  • Fleet upgrades to low emission vehicles
  • Review parking charges and park and ride options
  • Improve buses and options for bus travel
  • Improve low and zero emission refueling stations and electric vehicle charging points
  • Build more bus lanes and cycle routes
  • Introduce access restrictions where the most polluting vehicles would need to pay to enter the city centre including buses and coaches, lorries, vans, cars and taxis. The daily charges range from £100 for buses and coaches to £6-12.50 for cars and could be applicable all day, every day

Impact on the environment

The first goal of the CAZ is to reduce the level of NO2 to a maximum average of 40μg/m3 as soon as possible. However, modeling by Jacobs suggests that even the introduction of charging for polluting vehicles as well as the additional measures described might not lead to full compliance with EU Limit Values by 2020. Drastic changes to behaviour are required. The additional measures described in the consultation do not include any reference to the benefits of more green spaces and trees on air quality. When we questioned the project team on this at the business workshop we were told that this is because these measures do not have significant benefits in relation to air quality. We’d like to see more detailed consideration of the benefits that trees can have in relation to air pollution, as well as the wider benefits to health and well being associated with access to green space. Impact on health Air quality is a public health issue. Poor air quality leads to the early deaths of nearly 900 people in Birmingham every year with thousands more suffering from associated asthma, heart disease, strokes, lung disease and dementia. These impacts are felt most by the young and old, and by those working and living in the heavily polluted areas. Wider benefits might also be felt by the modal shift from car travel to more active transport such as walking and cycling. Some low emission vehicles are quieter (electric and hybrid) thus resulting in less noise pollution, and lower levels of traffic congestion could result in fewer accidents. However, it must be recognised that those living and working within the CAZ will be most affected by the changes and will initially find these transitions difficult and stressful. They must be supported to make long term changes in their behaviour through provision of advice on travel planning and alternatives, financial incentives and additional time to adapt to the measures of the CAZ. In the last ‘Our Comment’ Simon Slater (SWM Associate Director of Policy and Partnerships) gave his perspective on the air quality issue, highlighting how quickly difficult issues can be solved and our quality of life improved. He illustrated this with the highly successful public health behavioural change campaign in relation to the ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants. Poor and harmful air quality is currently invisible. To demonstrate the need for the CAZ, and drive the behaviour change required, could the Council embark on awareness raising in the coming months to make air pollution ‘visible’ through signage and communication?

Impact on the economy

At the business workshop we attended it was clear that there is significant concern from those relying on vehicles for their livelihood, with many worried that the charges for their vehicles in the CAZ would have a negative economic impact on them and even causing some organisations to cease trading. However, there are benefits to the economy as a result of increased productivity due to fewer days off sick and hospital admissions asociated with poor air quality. New economic development and regeneration opportunities will be created within the green economy for alternative fuels, new vehicle and product design, and manufacture supply chains in line with the Government’s Industrial Strategy. We are pleased to see that the proposed CAZ is ambitious and includes a wide variety of measures to address the air quality problem. However, we believe that a huge amount of support and education will be required to drive the transition to lower emission and more sustainable methods of transport for both individuals and businesses. All documentation relating to the CAZ can be found online.

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