UK Leaders call for an enhanced Clean Air Fund

September 2nd, 2019

A cross-party group of political leaders from across the country are calling for Government support to tackle air pollution. 14 Mayors and political leaders from London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield, Southampton and the West of England Combined Authority have today joined forces to call for the Government to
support a network of 30 new and existing Clean Air Zones.

A report released by UK100, a network of local leaders, shows that towns and cities could see an economic return of £6.5bn with support from the Government to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.

The Royal College of Physicians has assessed that the costs attributed to health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution are more than £20bn per year. The group are urging the new Chancellor, Sajid Javid to make an enhanced Clean Air Fund the centrepiece of a Spending Round in support of the NHS, which is due to be published on 4 September.

With air pollution contributing to up to 36,000 deaths a year, the research shows that adequately funding existing Clean Air Zones and introducing new ones, which would charge the most polluting vehicles to enter towns and cities, could provide a boost to our health and the economy. A national network of up to 30 Clean Air Zones across England, including London, could be enhanced and unlocked if an additional £1.5bn is committed from Government and business to tackle air pollution in the most polluted towns and cities.* This would bring together £1bn in the upcoming Spending Round alongside £500m from business contributions. This would allow Clean Air Zones to be introduced in all of the places the Government warns will have illegal levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) by 2021. This includes towns and cities across the country such as Bristol, Coventry, Guildford, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Southampton.

The initial results from the UK’s first Clean Air Zone are encouraging. A report into the impact of London’s ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) introduced in April this year shows that the numbers of older, polluting vehicles has reduced by over a quarter. Currently only six local authorities have plans to introduce such zones. For existing and upcoming zones such as in London and Birmingham, it would support enhanced Vehicle Renewal schemes to support residents and small businesses to switch to cleaner transport.

Under the UK100 plan, lower income residents and small businesses would be offered incentives of between £2,000 and £6,000 to either upgrade existing vehicles or get rid of their older, polluting vehicles and switch to a cleaner form of transport such as electric vehicles or public transport. As well as support for buying an ‘ultra low emissions’ vehicle, the cash could also be put toward car clubs,
bike hire schemes or a public transport season ticket.

The report calls for a partnership with industry to contribute to a national vehicle renewal scheme, similar to how car manufacturers have contributed to the German Government’s Sustainability Mobility Fund for cities. London has received commitment from third party organisations (e.g. car clubs) for additional funding to support its car scrappage scheme.

Polly Billington, Director of UK100, a network of local leaders that campaigns on clean air, said: “Cleaning up the air in our towns and cities makes sound economic sense and this study demonstrates that. It will boost the health of our communities and save the NHS money. Sensible investment by national government is needed to support local authorities to take the most polluting vehicles off our roads while ensuring that the poorest in our towns and cities are not the hardest hit by pollution and measures to tackle it.”

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “Greater Manchester is ready with our Clean Air Plan proposals to quickly tackle the huge problem of air pollution, which contributes to the equivalent of 1,200 deaths in our city-region each year. But Government has so far failed to commit enough funding to implement what would be the largest proposed Clean Air Zone outside London, covering 500 square miles and 2.8 million people.

“And, crucially, it has not so far put forward any funding to help Greater Manchester bus and coach operators, taxi and private hire drivers and companies, businesses with HGVs and vans – which could be affected by our Clean Air Zone proposal – to retrofit their existing vehicles, or move to cleaner models, to avoid paying a daily penalty to drive within the zone. We don’t want businesses to pay – we want to help them switch to compliant vehicles. But we need much more support from the government to do this.”

The study suggests that introduction of Clean Air Zones across the country could bring an economic benefit of £4.30 for every £1 spent (i.e. £1.5bn spent would have a total benefit of £6.45bn). The study uses the HM Treasury’s own ‘Green Book’ method of cost-benefit analysis that assess various impacts on the economy, the environment and social welfare. Benefits include reducing congestion, improving air quality, reducing health costs, reductions in accidents and wear and tear on roads. These are all offset by the cost of the scrappage scheme, EV infrastructure and a reduction in tax revenues from diesel and petrol sales.

*£1.5bn is the entire cost for establishing the Clean Air Zones which the Government and businesses should commit and will allow the CAZs to be established in 2020 and operate until 2029. The costs/expenditure are all assumed to be incurred in that first year as part of the upcoming Spending Round, but the effects of the upgraded vehicles, behavioural effects, etc, last beyond that first year and we include them for several years. The UK100 analysis shows that if a local authority sets up a ‘Class D’ Clean Air Zone (the most comprehensive type which charges vehicles such as cars, motorcycles and mopeds) there will be a positive economic benefit of up to 4:1 (£4.30 for every £1 spent). So far, the Government has only made £220m available via the Clean Air Fund, which is far from adequate to fund vehicle swap schemes in these areas and excludes London, which has the most polluted roads in the UK. Current Government plans call for 29 cities or city regions across England, including London, to take action to reduce illegal levels of Nitrogen Dioxide and meet obligations placed upon the UK under the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive. Presently, only six cities or city regions have announced plans to create a Clean Air Zone, with one in place in London since April.