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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today published a new report: Up in the air? Delivering clean air in a socially just way. The report analyses the scale of, impact of and solutions for air pollution in England’s deprived areas.


The report focuses on the impact of and policies for two sectors that are especially responsible for air pollution in deprived areas: transport and domestic burning, which are the biggest contributors to NOx and PM2.5 air pollutants. 

The report is based on findings of focus groups with people living in different deprived areas of three English cities: Birmingham, Liverpool and London.

Action on air pollution has become increasingly politicised in recent years, which risks stalling necessary progress on reducing air pollution. This report proposes seven new policy recommendations to reduce air pollution, but ones that support rather than penalise those living in deprived areas and ones that command public support.

Will Prescott, Researcher at Bright Blue and lead author of the report, commented:

“People will be far more likely to support Clean Air Zones if they don’t unduly penalise the least well off. We need sensible adjustments to Clean Air Zones that offer an equitable way to improve cleaner air quality in England’s deprived areas.”

Alexander Stafford MP, member of the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, commented:

“We must ensure that our transition towards cleaner air is a just transition and that we bring everyone with us as we move towards cleaner air. Policies which ignore the needs of the least well-off are as useless as policies which will not provide adequate air pollution reduction – these objectives must be balanced. This very detailed report sets out the difficult path that policymakers must tread, and presents real strategies to overcome these issues.

Jo Gideon MP, Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, commented:

“This report from Bright Blue highlights a crucial truth: addressing air pollution demands a balance between environmental progress and social justice. It is not acceptable if measures to improve air quality damage our local economy and risk jobs, and measures to improve air quality must not merely move the problem elsewhere. A holistic approach is needed to improve air quality, to make sure the harmful effects of air pollution are no longer felt across people’s lifetimes. Implementing policies that target pollution without penalizing the vulnerable is key to a cleaner, fairer future.”



  • Require Clean Air Zones (CAZs) to differentiate charges for driving in inner cities and outer urban areas.

Local authorities and the Mayor of London have discretion as to how much vehicles are charged for entering a CAZ.

To date, London ULEZ is the only CAZ that covers almost an entire urban area. When the ULEZ expanded on 31 August 2023 to include the entire territory under the jurisdiction of the Greater London Authority, all non-compliant vehicles became liable to pay a £12.50 daily charge to drive within the zone. This is notwithstanding that the quality of public transport is significantly worse in outer London than it is in inner London and outer London residents are more car-dependent as a result.

We recommend that central government require that local authorities and the Mayor of London introduce differentiated charging regimes between their inner city and outer urban areas for any city-wide CAZ, to reflect the varying availability of public transport.  

  • Clean Air Zones (CAZs) should provide exemptions for all Blue Badge holders.

Local authorities and the Mayor of London have discretion as to whether they wish to apply any exemptions for any road charging schemes, such as CAZs. Local authorities may grant discounts or exemptions for Blue Badge holders.

Reflecting this, the cities with Class D CAZs, that is those CAZs that charge non-compliant private vehicles to enter, have provided different exemptions for disabled residents. For example, Bristol’s CAZ introduced temporary exemptions for Blue Badge holders, while Birmingham’s CAZ did not provide any exemptions for Blue Badge holders.

We recommend that central government require local authorities and the Mayor of London to grant exemptions to all Blue Badge holders in Class D CAZs. As the clearest legal indicator of disability, Blue Badge holder status would be the fairest way to protect disabled people from the adverse consequences of charging CAZs.

  • Enable local authorities to strive for ‘reasonable profits’ from their charging Clean Air Zones (CAZs) to fund targeted, generous scrappage schemes in the short term.

Local authorities or the Mayor of London cannot set charges in CAZs or the ULEZ to raise revenue. Any additional revenue raised from CAZs must be reinvested to “facilitate the achievement of local transport policies”.

To provide support to those needing to upgrade non-compliant vehicles, the UK Government provided funding for two of the cities with Class D CAZs (Birmingham and Bristol), but did not provide any support for London’s ULEZ scrappage scheme, which was entirely funded by the GLA itself. Unfortunately, the support available to vehicle owners has not proved enough to cover the cost of purchasing compliant vehicles.

We recommend the UK central government allow local and combined authorities to pursue ‘reasonable profits’ from their CAZs, so long as those profits are only used to provide more generous scrappage schemes that are specifically targeted at those from deprived areas.

  • The Government should immediately pilot a voluntary road pricing scheme for all road users ahead of a national rollout, that includes a discount for those on low incomes.

We recommend that, to gradually detoxify per-mile road pricing, the UK government immediately trial a road pricing scheme for all road users. It would be an ‘opt in’ scheme, with those volunteering to participate being exempt from Fuel Duty. An immediate set of pilots would lay the groundwork for a national rollout of road pricing schemes from around 2035. To incentivise participation in the trial, government might consider what sorts of monetary incentives would be appropriate.

Because of the risk that the introduction of a road pricing scheme slows the adoption of electric vehicles, government could also introduce a temporary ‘green miles’ scheme that offers a certain proportion of discounted or free miles to those electric vehicles. This would be phased out over time. 

We further recommend that such a scheme provide a ‘free mileage’ which means allowing motorists to drive a set number of miles before they would have to start paying. This would be targeted, with those from deprived areas, those living in areas with inadequate access to public transport, as well as disabled people, receiving higher free mileage allowances than the general population. 


Domestic burning

  • Amend the Clean Air Act 1993 to permit local authorities to ban completely dometic burning in smoke control areas on days when the DAQI score is forecast to be at a level harmful to human health.

Local authorities may currently designate certain areas to be smoke control areas. In those areas, domestic burning is prohibited unless it is done using an ‘exempt appliance’, that is a Defra-approved stove, or, if the stove is not an exempt appliance, the burning is carried out with a Defra-approved fuel. While Defra-approved stoves and fuels produce less PM2.5 emissions than non-approved stoves or fuels, they still produce substantial emissions that local authorities cannot stop. This is especially significant given that domestic burning is now the largest single source of PM2.5 emissions in the UK.

To help address this problem, we recommend that local authorities be given the power to ban domestic burning completely on days when air pollution is forecast to be harmful to human health. Exemptions would be available for the very small number of households with no alternative source of heating.

There are several ways to communicate these temporary bans to the public. Australia provides several examples of these. Australia communicates regional fire bans through a combination of announcements on radio, television and internet weather forecasts, social media updates, and government agency websites. Although in a different context – to stop outdoor burning to prevent the outbreak of bushfires rather than to stop domestic burning to reduce concentrations of air pollution – these approaches could be used to communicate when the bans are in effect. 

  • Ban the sale of new stoves that emit more than 150g of PM2.5 for every gigajoule of energy produced

The UK recently banned the installation of new stoves that failed to meet the new Ecodesign standards, meaning stoves that emit up to 375g of PM2.5 for every gigajoule of energy produced.

However, Ecodesign stoves still produce PM2.5 emissions 750 times greater per hour than an HGV vehicle, and more than 450 times more PM2.5 emissions per hour than a gas boiler. As such, even the new standards still permit far higher than acceptable emissions of PM­2.5.

While we do not support an outright ban on the installation of new stoves, we recommend that Defra further tighten emissions standards to ensure that no new stoves emit more than 150g of PM2.5 for every gigajoule of energy produced, which is the official standard in the Nordic countries.

  • Warning labels to be added to all new and refurbished stoves.

There is little public awareness of the harmful medical effects that domestic burning causes not only to people who burn indoors themselves, but to their neighbours. This is reflected in the recent increase in sales of stoves in recent years. It is also reflected in the mistaken belief among many people, especially among more affluent households, that domestic burning is a safer, more environmentally friendly way of heating one’s home than gas boilers.

New stoves are required to have an energy rating label attached, but not a health warning.  The UK’s statutory guidance for combustion appliances, which includes stoves, requires them “to incorporate an appropriate means of warning of a release of carbon monoxide”. However, the guidance contains no requirement for new stoves to contain labels warning about the negative health consequences of the outdoor pollution that stoves emit, particularly emissions of PM­2.5

We recommend that Defra require that all new stoves have mandatory warning labels attached that specifically highlight the negative medical consequences of the outdoor air pollution that even Defra-approved stoves still produce.


Matt Towner, Programme Director of the Health effects of air pollution programme at Impact on Urban Health, said:

“Most people living in the UK breathe dangerously high levels of air pollution every day. From increased rates of cancer to heart disease, asthma, and even links to dementia, air pollution is having an immense impact on our lives.

“And some people are more affected than others: Children, Black people and people from other minoritised communities, and people living in areas of deprivation in our towns and cities.

“But there’s good news: air pollution can be fixed. Bright Blue’s new report provides useful recommendations for Government to start improving air quality in a way that supports the health of those most affected.”

Livi Elsmore, Campaign Manager of the Healthy Air Coalition, commented:

This is an important report, that shines a light on the opportunities for ambitious clean air policies that protect our health while promoting fairness by design.

Air pollution from road transport and burning wood at home harms our health when we breathe it in, and all levels of government must take action to reduce pollution levels. Clean air zones are one tried and tested method of reducing harmful pollution, quickly and efficiently. 

We welcome and support proposals for cleaning up toxic air that do not place undue burden on the least well-off, or those least able to switch to cleaner transport and home heating options.”

Jane Burston, CEO of the Clean Air Fund, comments:

“It’s crucial that clean air policies, which are designed to improve health for people primarily living in urban areas, are designed with the most vulnerable in mind. The recommendations in this report take an evidence-based, people-centred approach, which is crucial for the successful introduction of any clean air policy, and will help to win support from affected communities and thereby secure cleaner air for the longer term.”

Caitie Gillett, Clean Air Programme Manager at the Conservative Environment Network, comments:

“This report highlights the progress made over the last 20 years to improve air quality. But, it also reminds us that there is still a significant amount to be done to reduce our exposure to air pollution and offers some tangible policies to bring it down to safer levels. In particular, it is welcome to see measures to reduce pollution from burning in the home – such as fireplaces and stoves. Air pollution from indoor burning is a significant portion of harmful air pollution, yet is often neglected by policymakers. In particular, improving stove standards and adding labels to all new and refurbished stoves are pragmatic policies which could help clean up the air.”



 Notes to editors

To arrange an interview with a Bright Blue spokesperson or for further media enquiries, please contact Emily Taylor at or 07841 419316. 

  • Bright Blue is the independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism.
  • This report is kindly sponsored by the Impact on Urban Health. Bright Blue has had complete editorial control over the report. The report does not necessarily reflect the views of our sponsor.
  • Our advisory council can be found here. We also have 230 parliamentary supporters. Members of our advisory council, the Bright Blue Community and our parliamentary supporters do not necessarily endorse all our policy recommendations.