The landmark Environment Act has given local authorities a new impetus to take action on our most harmful air pollutants. Local authorities will now have to give additional attention to tackling fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — the most harmful air pollutant — in addition to driving down NOx, which is primarily produced by road traffic. The sources of PM2.5 pollution include biomass (wood) burning, combustion and resuspended dust (e.g from tyre and brake wear).
Modelling by the University of Birmingham has shown that PM2.5 pollution causes approximately 1,400 deaths annually in the West Midlands Combined Authority Area. And in our region, those particulates are largely arising from domestic combustion and emissions from industry.
In order to deliver fixes to our air pollution problem, the Combined Authority, in conjunction with government and local authorities, are looking at how to encourage behaviour change by shifting away from the most polluting activities. This includes promoting active travel and public transport as a viable alternative for shorter journeys, electrifying council-owned fleets and encouraging advances to reduce our industrial emissions.
My own council, Solihull Borough, has begun making progress in slashing our PM2.5 by supporting residents to more easily leave the car at home on shorter journeys. Our Sustainable Travel Team has been working with companies and organisations to develop travel plans to help commuters walk or cycle to work with incentives to buy bikes. We’ve produced a new Cycling and Walking Strategy that sets out our plan to address current barriers, our visions for delivering new cycling infrastructure and embedding active travel into new housing developments.
Solihull Borough Council has been supported by the Combined Authority to secure £18 million from the Department of Transport to deliver the first two high-priority cycle routes identified in our recent Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan. These two high-quality segregated cycle paths will connect the town centre with a safe route for residents of all ages and abilities and help us make more journeys by bike or foot.
And to protect children’s little and still developing lungs, we’ve pioneered a ‘school streets’ scheme, which keeps roads around schools free of traffic at pick-up and drop-off times and worked with local schools to develop anti-idling campaigns and walking to school initiatives. And all this progress on local, regional and national levels will be complimented and built upon with the Air Quality Framework that the Combined Authority is looking to put into place.
There is still a lot of work to do, but these plans are being made alongside a number of existing schemes. We know that we need better data and air quality monitoring across the region to have a consistent picture of what is happening and where we are delivering successes.
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