Northern cities set to lose millions due to shelved clean air plans

Philippa Borrowman Philippa BorrowmanPolicy adviser020 7630

The delayed roll out of plans to deal with air pollution by local authorities will exacerbate the public health crisis in the north, while cities in other parts of the UK push ahead, according to a new report by think tank Green Alliance.
The UK needs to act fast on the health emergency being caused by toxic air, to avoid up to 36,000 premature deaths annually and benefit the UK economy by £1.6 billion every year. [1] Clean air zones (CAZs), which charge the most polluting vehicles a fee to enter an area, are a fast route to cutting dangerous pollution and changing urban transport habits for the better long term. [2]
While clean air zones are going ahead this year in Bristol, Birmingham and London, as well as the newly established zone in Bath, northern cities are lagging behind. Our analysis shows that clean air zones bring high value health, economic and environmental benefits to cities. But Leeds has cancelled its planned zone during the pandemic while Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Tyneside and many others are yet to finalise their plans, which have all been delayed until at least 2022.
This stalling will continue to harm local people’s health and lose the cities tens of millions of pounds. Greater Manchester would have seen annual health and environmental benefits amounting to £25 million this year if it had committed to its initial timeframe. [3] Meanwhile, analysis by Birmingham shows that it expects to gain around £50 million in health and environmental savings in one year, from fewer hospital admissions, reduced emissions, higher productivity and fewer mortalities. [4]
Furthermore, none of the proposals for northern cities include private vehicles, unlike the schemes for London, Bristol and Birmingham. 60 per cent of roadside nitrogen oxides come from local road traffic and almost half of this is from cars, so extending the clean air zones to private vehicles is crucial to receive the increased health and environmental benefits. [5] Modelling by Green Alliance analysis shows that Bristol’s clean air zone would result in £150 million worth of benefits, compared to just £30 million for plans that exclude cars. [6]
Additional measures can be implemented to support clean air zones and promote a switch to cleaner transport alternatives. These are also expected to deliver significant economic benefits. For example, a workplace parking levy could deliver financial benefits that range from £37 million for Oldham to £72 million for Liverpool and £76 million for Salford, according to Green Alliance’s analysis. [7]
The report highlights that success depends heavily on both effective communication, to explain the scheme and ease concerns, and supportive measures, like scrappage schemes and public transport discounts, to minimise any negative financial impacts on residents and businesses. [8] And, while many northern cities may fear backlash from drivers and businesses, especially in the light of the pandemic’s financial impacts, evidence from across the world shows that, once in place, clean air zones are popular. Vienna’s scheme has unanimous support from its businesses and residents and, in Gothenburg, a survey of hauliers and suppliers operating within its low emission zone found that only 20 per cent rated it negatively. 
The report also highlights that the government has failed to support the concept of clean air zones with a clear national message about why they are needed. It says the government should enshrine a commitment to the WHO air quality guidelines in its forthcoming Environment Bill and provide more financial backing for local areas to help them meet national targets.
Philippa Borrowman, policy adviser at Green Alliance said:
“There’s a strong economic case for clean air zones and the north is once again set to lose out. Over the next couple of years, as the UK economy recovers from the pandemic, clean air could become yet another factor that divides the country and leads to different life chances. Local authorities must now take action to reduce dangerous air pollution, by consulting with communities and businesses to ensure policies are implemented fairly and effectively. The UK government must also take the lead in making sure every area of the country is addressing this challenge so that the benefits of cleaner air are accessible to everyone, wherever they live.”

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: 
“Delaying schemes designed to reduce toxic air costs lives. Air pollution is a national health emergency and for the millions of people living with lung conditions, such as asthma and COPD, it can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks or exacerbations. In some northern cities, where action to tackle air pollution from vehicle emissions is behind those in the south, we also see the highest rates of lung disease and deprivation in the country.”

“Ambitious action on toxic air will reap major health benefits and help reduce the staggering levels of health inequality between the north and south. Evidence shows that introducing clean air zones which include restrictions on private vehicles is the quickest and most effective way to clean up the air. When backed by joined up action that gives people real alternatives to driving, such as safer walking and cycling, clean air zones pave the way for longer term change that will help save people’s lives.”

[1] CBI Economics, September 2020, Breathing life into the UK economy
[2] Clean air zones (CAZs) are a charge on the most polluting vehicles for entering a particular area. Local authorities can decide what level of zone they implement. There are four levels, differentiated by the type of vehicles targeted.
-CAZ A – Buses, coaches, taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs)
-CAZ B – Buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs)
-CAZ C – Buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, HGVs, light goods vehicles (LGVs) and minibuses
-CAZ D – Buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, HGVs LGVs, minibuses and cars
Buses, coaches and HGVs that meet Euro 6 emissions standards, and cars, vans, PHVs, minibuses and taxis that meet Euro 6 (diesel) or Euro 4 (petrol) emissions standards, are normally exempt from clean air zone charges or restrictions.
[3] Greater Manchester, February 2019, Greater Manchester’s Outline Business Case to tackle Nitrogen Dioxide Exceedances at the Roadside: E2 Modelling Report; [discounted to 2018 prices]
[4] Birmingham City Council, November 2018, Birmingham Clean Air Zone Feasibility Study
[5] Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs & Department for Transport, July 2017, UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations: technical report
[6] Analysis conducted by Green Alliance based on Bristol City Council, October 2019, Bristol City Council clean air plan, outline business case, economic appraisal modelling report (1); [discounted to 2018 prices]
[7] For the report, Green Alliance extrapolated the benefits, for cities in the midlands and the north, of a workplace parking levy, on the basis of first year’s financial gains from Nottingham’s current scheme, the only one so far in the country. This data showed the monetary benefits for the following cities:
City Annual economic benefit
Liverpool £72.3 million
Bolton £68.6 million
Bury £53.4 million
Manchester £88.5 million
Oldham £37 million
Rochdale £56.6 million
Salford £75.7 million
Stockport £62.4 million
Tameside £39.6 million
Trafford £48.5 million
Wigan £64.6 million
Birmingham £194.4 million
Green Alliance also calculated the advantages of a car free streets policy, along the lines of Barcelona’s ‘superblocks’ scheme, for a city the size of Bristol. It estimated that the city could save over 14,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year, prevent 102 premature deaths over ten years and that these benefits, combined over a decade, would equate to a total value of £265 million.
[8] Scrappage schemes can play a major role in supporting households and businesses to shift away from fossil fuel vehicles to electric, or alternative modes of transport. They were recognised by two thirds of the UK’s first national Climate Assembly as an important policy to reduce car use and support modal shift. One study suggested that a £4,000 per car mobility credit scheme in the West Midlands could cut car usage by up to 70 per cent and increase the use of public transport and car clubs. Scrappage schemes targeting vehicle fleets with high mileage, such as taxis or delivery vehicles, can also help to support local businesses while mitigating against any negative impacts.

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