UK mayors lobby for £1.5bn funding to tackle Britain’s air pollution

A group of 16 mayors and city leaders have called on the UK Government to set aside an extra £1.5bn of investment to boost its existing Clean Air Fund, ahead of next week's Budget announcement.

In a letter orchestrated by the UK100 Cities network and sent to Chancellor Philip Hammond on Monday (22 October), the mayors claim that the £220m of funding outlined in the Clean Air Fund is “inadequate” to combat the nation’s rising air pollution levels, which have been found to breach legal limits in the vast majority of urban areas

Signatories of the letter, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, have concluded that a further investment of £1.5bn would be needed in order to bring the nation’s air quality back within the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended limits.

Specifically, they state that the funding could be used to support the development of Clean Air Zones in cities, the decarbonisation of bus and taxi fleets and the retrofitting of existing HGVs, while spurring public uptake of electric vehicles (EVs).

Signatories also claim that the funding would give local authorities new powers to tackle pollution from construction, buildings, transport, wood-burning and maritime sources – and enable such power to be used “effectively and quickly”.

“As city leaders, we are committed to playing our part in an ambitious national plan for clean air,” the letter states.

“However, funding committed by the Government to tackle air pollution is simply inadequate on three fronts; not enough funding for those local authority areas that the Government has identified as having the most severe air quality challenges, insufficient funding available for tackling the wider sources of air pollution and limited financial support for national measures.”

The letter, which has also been sent to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, highlights recent research by environmental law group ClientEarth, which revealed that the Clean Air Fund is now supporting eight more towns and cities than originally planned. This means that the £220m is set to be divided between 45 local authorities.

The signatories to the letter are the mayors of London, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City, Sheffield City, Bristol and Leicester, along with the leaders of Birmingham City Council, Bradford Metropolitan District Council, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Newcastle City Council, Oxford City Council, Southampton City Council and Stockport City Council. Representatives from Leeds City Council, the City of York Council and Nottingham City Council have also signed.

“It is clear the current Clean Air Fund, while welcome, is not sufficient to tackle the problem of air pollution, which is shortening and worsening lives, pressuring public services and damaging the economy,” UK100 Cities’ network director Polly Billington added.

Mayors and graces

The call to action follows a similar letter urging the Government to implement “tough and urgent action” to reduce the nation’s air pollution levels, which was sent to Prime Minister Theresa May by a group of 17 mayors in August.

Produced after the UK’s first national Clean Air Summit, which was held in London in June, the letter called on May to introduce a new Environment and Clean Air Act which establishes “strong” air quality limits linked to WHO guidelines, and recommended that such limits be enforced by an independent statutory body. 

The letter is the latest call to action after the Government’s latest clean air plan in 2017 was condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors.

The Air Quality Plan includes a ban on all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 and a £255m fund to help councils crack down on emissions – but has faced criticism from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees.

Sarah George

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