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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today published a new report, Clearing the air: Reducing air pollution in the West Midlands, which includes evidence suggesting higher levels of air pollution in the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) compared to the rest of England, and suggestions of new transport policies for the WMCA to adopt to reduce air pollution.

The report provides evidence which suggests that the scale and consequences of air pollution are higher in the WMCA than the rest of England.

  • Annual anthropogenic Particulate Matter (PM2.5) – a leading non-gaseous air pollutant – concentrations were slightly more than 12% higher in the average local authority in the WMCA (11.1 µg/m3) than the rest of England (9.9 µg/m3) in 2014.
  • The average local authority in the WMCA had higher average PM5 (11.1 µg/m3) than the average local authority across all Combined Authorities in England (9.6 µg/m3) in 2014.
  • The WMCA had, on average, among those aged 75 and under a higher incidence level of preventable respiratory disease (22.1 per 100,000) and cardiovascular disease (57.2 per 100,000) – both which are strongly associated with exposure to air pollution – than the rest of England (18.6 and 46.7 per 100,000 respectively) between 2014 and 2016.
  • The average fraction of deaths attributable to long-term exposure to PM5 across the WMCA was 6.2%, compared to 5.6% for the whole of England, in 2010.

The report also contains the results of new polling of the public in the wider West Midlands region on air pollution, showing:

  • 72% of respondents in the West Midlands region are concerned about the impact of air pollution on the health of themselves and others.
  • The effect of air pollution which people living in the West Midlands region are most concerned about is the harm it can have for people’s health (43%), closely followed by the strain on the NHS from lung and heart conditions caused by air pollution (42%).
  • The majority of respondents in the West Midlands region (58%) think that Central Government should be the most responsible actor for tackling air pollution, despite the considerable powers and policies of both local and combined authority governments in the West Midlands.

Commenting Eamonn Ives, Researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, says:

“Air pollution is a major danger to the health of individuals in the West Midlands. The evidence suggests that those living in the West Midlands experience higher levels of air pollution and worse consequences from it. Concern for air pollution in the West Midlands is widespread amongst the public, and many believe that not enough is being done to resolve it”

“Time for the Mayor to be bold. He should ensure that this region is not left behind London and lead the way in introducing new, ambitious transport policies to tackle air pollution in the West Midlands. People in the West Midlands need and deserve cleaner air urgently.”

Bright Blue’s main transport policies in Reducing air pollution in the West Midlands are:

  • Extend the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) scheduled for Birmingham for 2020 to all relevant parts of the WMCA and transfer responsibility for it from Birmingham City Council to the WMCA. CAZs should be introduced in the relevant parts of the town and city centres of the WMCA which, as a minimum, consistently exceed the national daily and annual limit values for the air pollutants, which currently derive from EU law. The CAZs should be designed collaboratively across all constituent local authorities in a way which affords maximum uniformity, and thus ease of use to individuals who may need to travel into different CAZs. Exemptions from the charging for entering the CAZs should apply to vulnerable and low-income groups, as well as drivers of vehicles with cleaner engines.
  • Enable local and combined authorities to strive for ‘reasonable profits’ from their CAZs to fund local diesel scrappage schemes and charging points for Electric Vehicles (EVs). The Government should amend the Transport Act 2000 to enable local authorities and metropolitan combined authorities to strive for ‘reasonable profits’ from their CAZs, as long as they are directed towards the establishment of a local diesel scrappage scheme or charging points for electric vehicles. Only if these objectives cannot be pursued should local and combined authorities be allowed to fund local transport objectives, as currently defined, from their reasonable profits.
  • Introduce a local diesel vehicle scrappage scheme in the WMCA. This could be funded from the Government’s new Clean Air Fund, alongside any reasonable profits generated by the introduction of a CAZ across the WMCA. The WMCA would be responsible for offering the grant (as well as the manufacturer matching the grant, if possible), and it would be up to the WMCA as to what price the grant was set at, and if conditions should be applied to what the grant can be spent on. Beneficiaries from the scheme would need to have scrapped a diesel vehicle which they had owned for at least 12 months. The scheme would apply only to residents of the WMCA. The WMCA should be mindful of replacing voluntary scrappage scheme offered by some manufacturers already.
  • Transfer licensing of taxis and PHVs across the West Midlands county to the WMCA, and increase the stringency of licensing based on emissions standards. Vehicles presented for licensing should pay different charges in relation to their age and emissions rating. Newer vehicles should pay less than older ones; above and beyond this, vehicles which are zero emission capable should incur a discounted licensing fee than would be the case for non-zero emission capable vehicles. The WMCA should also mandate that the age limit for already licensed solely fossil fuel vehicles is set at 10 years, in order to prevent the oldest models from remaining on the road. For solely fossil fuel vehicles seeking to be licensed for the first time, the age limit should be set at 18 months. The WMCA should set a date after which all new vehicles presented for taxi and PHV licensing should be zero emission capable.