Air quality: local solutions to a national problem

Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment at Birmingham City Council, reflects on how local solutions are being used to tackle the national issue of air pollution

In Birmingham, we have always been clear that air pollution is a national public health crisis which can only be tackled effectively by like-minded people across the country working together, with support and leadership from the Government, towards the common goal of clean air for all.

This is clearly a view shared by others too, as evidenced when city leaders and mayors came together at the National Clean Air Summit in London on February 14 to sign what is already being hailed as the world’s most ambitious clean air plan. I’m pleased to say that Birmingham was represented at this prestigious event – and, crucially, we have signed up to this plan.

Among the asks of Government set out in the plan were greater powers and resources for local authorities to deliver clean air and greener, more sustainable transport networks – in short, enabling councils to deliver local solutions to a national problem.

In Birmingham alone, up to 900 premature deaths each year can be attributed to man-made pollution. It is linked to heart disease, diabetes, asthma, obesity, cancer and dementia, as well as still births, infant deaths, low birth weight and organ damage. Children living in high pollution areas are four times more likely to have reduced lung function when they become adults.

We can’t allow this to continue – we need to act and we need to act now, for the sake of our children, their children and future generations to come.

In Birmingham, we are already working on a wide range of measures to tackle air pollution, the most visible of which will be the introduction of a Clean Air Zone in January 2020, just under a year away.

However, the Clean Air Zone is just part of a much bigger, long-term picture. We have just started consulting on a Clean Air Strategy for Birmingham, which will enable us to go beyond our legal duties and tackle air pollution in all neighbourhoods across the city, rather than just those where pollution exceeds legal limits – and crucially, this is a strategy that will be owned by the whole city, rather than just the council.

We also want to encourage more people out of their cars and on to public transport, so we are currently carrying out a survey to find out why more people aren’t using the bus. We’ve already had thousands of responses so we know this is a subject close to many people’s hearts and one which we are determined to resolve, in collaboration with our partners across the West Midlands region.

We are continuing to engage with people and organisations across the city and wider region on air quality-related matters, including a schools summit at the end of this month and a transport summit in March.

And, of course, the conversations we started during our Clean Air Zone consultation last summer will continue as we work together as a city and also with our neighbours across the West Midlands and, more widely, our colleagues at local authorities across the country, to achieve our shared ambition of clean air for all.

This blog was posted on 19 February 2019

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