Improving air quality is for life, not just for Clean Air Day

Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment, reflects on the importance of taking positive action to improve our air quality - not just on Clean Air Day, but in the long-term.

Today is Clean Air Day – an opportunity for individuals and organisations across the world to come together and take positive action to improve the air we all breathe.

However, air quality is not an issue that will be tackled in one day alone. The point of making a pledge for Clean Air Day is that we will continue to make these changes in the long-term with the aim of cleaning up our air for our children, their children and future generations to come.

I myself have pledged to walk to all my ward meetings and, in addition to that, I am also learning to ride a bike at the age of 37 so that I can also cycle to these meetings too. I realise this may prove to be a challenge, but it’s a challenge worth taking if it means I’m playing my part in reducing vehicle emissions.

I believe that everyone has a right to clean air, just as we all have a right to clean water. However, that is not the case at the moment – in fact, poor air quality is responsible for up to 900 early deaths in Birmingham each year. The main source of this pollution is vehicle emissions, particularly from diesel vehicles.

This is completely unacceptable and we need to act now to prevent these deaths. We also face being fined tens of millions of pounds if we don’t bring pollution levels in the city down to legal limits in the shortest possible time.

On Tuesday, 26 June, I will be taking a report to Cabinet, seeking approval to launch a full public consultation into plans for a Clean Air Zone in Birmingham. If implemented, this would mean charging the most polluting vehicles to enter the area of the city within the A4540 Middleway ring road, including lorries, vans, buses, coaches, private hire vehicles, taxis and private cars.

However, it is important to note that this is NOT a congestion charge: this is not about restricting the volume of traffic but restricting those vehicles with the most polluting engines by discouraging them from entering the Clean Air Zone in the first place.

If your vehicle’s engine is clean enough then you will not be charged. In fact, in an ideal world, no one would need to pay a charge at all because they would be driving a low or zero-emission vehicle, or walking, cycling or using public transport.

We recognise that this will have an impact on many people, particularly in the more deprived areas of the city, as well as businesses, including the taxi and private hire trade. If approved by Cabinet, our consultation will give everyone a chance to tell us how a Clean Air Zone would affect them so that we can work to put together a range of measures to support them – but we MUST take action to address the air quality crisis as quickly as possible.

Of course, this is not just a Birmingham issue. Poor air quality affects people all over the country and this is why it is important for city leaders to come together to share ideas and best practice, as well as committing to work together to tackle this problem on a national level.

This was demonstrated yesterday when I had the pleasure of attending the Clean Air Summit hosted by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. This historic event enabled representatives from cities across England and Wales to come together to agree a bold plan to address air pollution and put our views and concerns to Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

We all have a part to play in improving the air we breathe, so whatever positive action you’re taking for Clean Air Day, I hope you will continue doing it in your everyday lives. Together we can turn Birmingham into a clean air city.  


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