Birmingham Clean Air Zone marks first anniversary, but remains divisive

The scheme has been labelled chaotic and poorly delivered by some, while others cite significant cuts in pollutants and rapidly rising compliance.  

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone has celebrated its first anniversary, but politicians in the city are still widely divided on its application and impact. 

Charges for high-polluting vehicles were introduced in the middle of last summer to tackle around 900 annual premature deaths in the area attributable to air pollution. Since then, according to Labour Cllr Liz Clements, Cabinet Member for the Environment in Birmingham, there has been a significant improvement in air quality.

Nitrogen dioxide, for example, has dropped by 13%, while more drivers are willingly co-operating with the scheme as vehicle compliance has increased from 79.8 to 88.8%. She has also made it clear that revenue brought in by the Zone will be used to improve communities. 

‘Thanks to Labour’s bold vision, the proceeds from the Clean Air Zone are being used on projects to improve air quality and road safety across the city, for example by setting up school streets to improve the air that our children breathe whilst at school and make it possible for them to walk and cycle to school in safety,’ said Cllr Clements. ‘In the coming years, as much as £35million could be invested into cleaning up the air in every community in the city thanks to the Clean Air Zone.

‘For years, Birmingham City Council has monitored the air quality across the city, and now thanks to the Clean Air Zone we will be able to install air quality monitors in every school that wants one. And our #BrumBreathes campaign is focused on helping people to rethink how they move around the city: every short car journey swapped for walking and cycling is a gain for our air quality,’ she continued. 

However, others have hit back at the Clean Air Zone. In particular, concerns were raised about the lack of comprehensive monitoring of air pollution outside the boundaries of the scheme, and the fact comparisons are being drawn between pollution levels now with those pre-pandemic. 

‘A year into Labour’s travel tax it is hugely concerning that they are still failing to monitor air quality outside of the city centre to see the impact of pollution displacement,’ said Cllr Robert Alden, Leader of the Conservative Group. ‘The council also continue to compare current traffic levels with pre-pandemic levels despite the fact the working world has changed and the council themselves are planning for around 85% of their staff working from home.’

Across the UK, more and more cities are introducing Clean Air Zones, with Bradford, West Yorkshire, one of the latest locations with a scheme about to go live. However, several other authorities have struggled to get Clean Air Zones off the ground, with Bristol’s iteration delayed last year but set to go live in the coming months, and Greater Manchester’s region-wide initiative currently on hold after facing a huge backlash from businesses, the public, and some politicians. 





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