The leaders of 14 major cities and regions across the United Kingdom this week called for national government and the private sector to spend £1.5bn on a network of 30 Clean Air Zones to curb air pollution and reap health and economic benefits.
The call came just days before the country’s Treasury announced its spending plans for the 2020-2021 period, the 14 leaders urging the new Chancellor of the Exchequer to prioritize air pollution to save the National Health Service money.
The Royal College of Physicians put the costs of health problems from exposure to air pollution at £20 billion per year in the U.K.
Meanwhile, a report from UK100, which represents a network of local leaders committed to clean energy, found that towns and cities could see an economic return of £6.5 billion— from reducing congestion, improving air quality, reducing health costs, reductions in accidents and wear and tear on roads— with support from the Government to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.
“With air pollution contributing to up to 36,000 deaths a year, the research shows that adequately funding existing Clean Air Zones and introducing new ones, which would charge the most polluting vehicles to enter towns and cities, could provide a boost to our health and the economy,” the organization said in a press release.
Currently only six local authorities have plans to introduce Clean Air Zones, although 23 regions are expected to reach illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution by 2021.
UK100 says the funding would allow all these regions to introduce such zones, including those that have not been ordered to do so by the national government.
“Greater Manchester is ready with our Clean Air Plan proposals to quickly tackle the huge problem of air pollution, which contributes to the equivalent of 1,200 deaths in our city-region each year. But Government has so far failed to commit enough funding to implement what would be the largest proposed Clean Air Zone outside London, covering 500 square miles and 2.8 million people,” said Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.
“And, crucially, it has not so far put forward any funding to help Greater Manchester bus and coach operators, taxi and private hire drivers and companies, businesses with HGVs and vans – which could be affected by our Clean Air Zone proposal – to retrofit their existing vehicles, or move to cleaner models, to avoid paying a daily penalty to drive within the zone. We don’t want businesses to pay – we want to help them switch to compliant vehicles. But we need much more support from the government to do this,” he said.
UK100 is urging the government to spend £1bn on the enhanced Clean Air Fund, with a further £500m coming from the private sector.
The UK100 report, by financial consultants CEPA, suggests that the money support boosting electric vehicle infrastructure, helping car clubs set up parking areas, improving public transport, subsidising transport passes for low-income families that give up their car, and scrapping or retrofitting schemes for more vulnerable groups.
The initial results from the UK’s first Clean Air Zone are encouraging. A report into the impact of London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone launched in April this year shows that the numbers of older, polluting vehicles has dropped by over a quarter.
But London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, who introduced the zone and other clean air initiatives in the city, called air pollution a national health crisis and called for urgent support.
“…cities including London cannot deliver further Clean Air Zones without urgent government funding. This funding must include a new national vehicle renewal scheme, which would help businesses and residents prepare for London’s ULEZ expansion in 2021,” he said.
“Everyone deserves the right to breathe clean air and the Chancellor simply cannot afford to delay immediate action on this invisible killer,” he continued.
The U.K. is struggling with levels of nitrogen dioxide concentrations that exceed standards set by the European Commission.
Among other actions, it has committed to ending the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040 and a £3.5 billion plan to support the switch to cleaner options, like electric vehicles, cycling and walking, and helping local authorities develop and implement local air quality plans.
The Chancellor’s 2020-2021 Spending Round, which was announced midweek and puts emphases on health and education, includes a £90 million funding boost for decarbonisation, air quality and biodiversity; over £200 million to transform bus services; and a contribution of £250 million to the international climate and environment funds, including the Green Climate Fund.
Read more here:
Press release: Leaders of biggest cities call for funding for Clean Air Zones to tackle pollution, and boost the economy
Report (pdf): Benefits and costs of an enhanced Clean Air Fund
Spending Round 2019: what you need to know
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