Feature: Why tackling air pollution needs to be a national priority

Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council, Phélim Mac Cafferty, explains why air pollution should be prioritised by the UK government and demonstrates how the council is working on eliminating emissions. 

I write this as the country is bracing itself for the annihilation of the environmental regulations, at a time when the quality of our air constitutes a national public health emergency.

The introduction of investment zones threatens to permanently damage seven National Parks and 29 areas of outstanding natural beauty; fracking will be reintroduced while habitat regulations will be scrapped jeopardising air quality.

These decisions are being made despite the abundant scientific evidence of climate breakdown, underlined this summer with our hottest ever day as wildfires blazed across London, the Midlands, Cornwall, and Yorkshire. Critical parts of our transport infrastructure crumbled and hospitals faced power cuts, as the climate emergency persists here and now.

Climate change is closely connected to corrosive air pollution. More frequent and more intense heat waves will produce more damaging air pollution, especially particulate matter (PM) and ozone (O3). Particulate matter is of considerable concern to scientists – this is the tiniest type of pollution which is trapped in the lungs where it’s absorbed into the bloodstream.

boy in white and blue crew neck shirt with white and blue pacifier

It’s often said if we could see poor air quality, we would be taking bolder steps to improve it. And the human consequences of poor air quality should be a call to arms: every year between 28,000 and 36,000 people die across the UK because of human-made air pollution, according to the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants.

Like many councils up and down the country, in Brighton & Hove we’re working with our communities to tackle toxic emissions and improve air quality. We’ve created a 2030 Carbon Neutral Programme which identifies how we will play our part to prevent climate breakdown and take action for health.

Local action on air quality

Despite being a seaside city, air pollution remains a stubborn issue in Brighton & Hove and is a major contributor to a startling 170 early deaths a year. Unclean air is also causing too many of our residents to develop respiratory illnesses such as asthma. The impact on our already stretched health services is hugely concerning, between 2017 and 2025 the total cost to the NHS and social care system of air pollutants will be £1.6 billion.

But this is also about the growth of the economy. In research from the CBI, clean air delivers a £1.6 billion economic benefit and three million working days gained by reducing sickness absence.

We are harnessing the powerful role of nature in tackling air pollution and investing historic levels of funding in planting trees and growing green corridors to give breathing space for nature.

Giving our residents safer options to move around our city, by bike or on foot, is of tremendous importance as it reduces the need for car traffic, the air pollution it causes and clears roads for those who need to drive. We are converting our fleet to low and zero emission alternatives. Small businesses are using our electric cargo bikes to replace diesel vans for urban deliveries. We’re requiring developers to improve air quality in the locations of their new developments.

people walking on street during daytime

As members of UK100, a cross-party network of climate and clean air ambitious local authorities, we joined other local councils in committing to work towards the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended guidelines for air pollution. But, as UK100’s latest Local Net Zero Delivery progress reports make clear, we need more certainty, more support and more powers from central government. We’re asking for national legislation to enable clean environmental growth in our local economies.

Ella’s Law

Last year, the London coroner ruled that for the first time, a person in the UK had air pollution listed as a cause of death. That was 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah whose name has been attributed to the new Clean Air Bill, known as ‘Ella’s Law’. The bill would give everyone the ‘right to clean air’.

The Bill is being taken forward by Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb and presses for meaningful investment to support communities and businesses to change in ways that are realistic, affordable, and beneficial for all.

Tackling air quality requires us to work with many other organisations to create new partnerships as well as strengthen the ones we already have.

As Chair of the Greater Brighton Economic Board, we are working with nearby local councils and the University of Brighton on a retrofitting task force which will help reduce emissions and improve air quality while helping to tackle the rising cost of household bills.

We’ve never more needed bold action and a change of direction at a national level to tackle air pollution for current and future generations.

Local councils have been working for a generation to identify where pollution is highest and set out local actions to make improvements. Still, we know that we need a more joined-up approach and with a new Prime Minister in office, there is a fresh opportunity for Rishi Sunak to address this public health emergency and the costs to people’s lives and public services.

Photo by Mladen Borisov and Callum Parker


Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

We need to stop the increased use of wood burning/coal in residential areas very very urgently. There are many of us choking with airborne as allergies this year esp :wood burning smoke/fumes / that continue to emanate from chimneys are things that we are supposed to have stopped ,and phased out years ago yet it is increasing rapidly! This affecting breathing along with dirty air esp in rural regions when people can use central heating and cleaner forms of heating homes

Mike Hinford
Mike Hinford
1 year ago
Reply to  JUDI

Ella’s Law effectively bans wood burning as the PM2.5 limits in the bill would not allow it.
It’s just been passed to the House of Commons. Ask your MP to support it.

Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top