In a letter orchestrated by the UK100 group of cities, city leaders have called on May to introduce a new Environment and Clean Air Act which establishes “strong” air quality limits linked to World Health Organisation guidelines, and have recommended that such limits be enforced by an independent statutory body. The recommendation comes after the Government’s latest clean air plan in 2017 was condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors.

The letter also recommends that cities and towns should have greater access to funding in order to support the delivery of Clean Air Zones, as well as more investment from Government for schemes which encourage walking and cycling, incentivise travel via public transport and lower pollution from buses and taxis.

The final recommendation listed by the leaders, who collectively represent around 20 million residents, is a targeted national vehicle renewal scheme aimed at replacing older vehicles with low-emission alternatives. The leaders are calling for the scheme to support business and taxi fleets, and to include measures which make electric vehicles (EVs) accessible to those who are on low incomes or run small businesses.

The signatories to the letter are the mayors of London, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, Bristol, Leicester and Liverpool, along with the leaders of Birmingham City Council, Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Cardiff City Council, Leeds City Council, Newcastle City Council, Nottingham City Council, Oxford City Council, Peterborough City Council, Southampton City Council and Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council.

“Our country’s polluted air is shortening lives, damaging our children’s lungs, and severely impacting on the NHS as well as costing the economy in working days lost,” the document states. “Crucially, these consequences do not fall equally across our society but disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable.”

“As city leaders we are committed to playing our part in an ambitious national plan for clean air that prioritises action to reduce road transport emissions; provides new powers to tackle other sources of pollution and creates a framework to support partnerships between local, regional and national Government and its agencies, including Highways England, and business. This plan must ensure that local action is adequately supported by activity across Government to tackle air pollution.”

Clean Air Summit

The letter is the result of the UK’s first national Clean Air Summit, which was held in London in June. The event, which was jointly hosted by the Mayor of London, think tank IPPR and UK100 Cities, saw local and regional leaders gather to discuss how they could collaborate to reduce the nation’s air pollution levels.

UK100’s director Polly Billington said that bringing leaders together would be the “best way” to combat Britain’s air pollution problem, which contributes to an estimated 23,500 early deaths every year. However, Billington noted that regional and local action would need to be better supported by policy and funding.

“Bringing [the leaders] together to agree on this important letter to the Prime Minister is our first step in coordinating local leaders to speak with one voice on this issue and get action at a national level that will make a real difference,” Billington said. “A public health crisis needs strong consistent action, across the country.”

The letter comes after the UK was referred to Europe’s highest court for failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution. The nation now faces a multimillion euro fine from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after levels of nitrogen dioxide were found to have been illegally high since 2010 in the majority of urban areas.

Sarah George

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