It’s National Clean Air Day and what better time to think about what we can do to improve the quality of the air around us.
Air pollution is a major contributor to heart and lung disease and figures suggest over 1,100 deaths annually are link to air pollution in Birmingham alone. We can’t let this go on, we need to make a change in Birmingham and on a national level.
One way we can improve air quality is by reducing the number of cars on the road, but this can only happen with improved infrastructure for public transport and greater schemes to promote walking and cycling. I have been encouraged by the steps Birmingham City Council is already taking steps to improve conditions for walking and cycling through proposals in the Walking & Cycling Strategy agreed earlier this year. There are also many local organisations offering cycling courses to residents to help them gain the confidence to cycle on the roads. But the Government needs to invest more funding in supporting and promoting these measures, to ensure they have a lasting effect.
We also need to make sure everyone has access to green spaces as the air quality in green spaces is significantly better than urban areas. In Birmingham we are lucky to have over 500 parks and over 8,000 acres of green space making it the UKs 4th greenest city, but I appreciate this is not the case for everyone. The initial Covid-19 lockdown really highlighted how crucial green spaces are for our mental and physical well-being, with many looking to nature for their daily walks. Unfortunately, many people in urban areas can’t access these spaces and we need the Government to commit to improving access to and preserving these spaces.
Research shows that 20mph speed limits not only reduce the number of road traffic accidents but also reduce particulate emissions due to a shift in driving style. I have supported the ’20 is Plenty’ campaign for many years and supported the Council’s proposals in 2013 to introduce 20mph speed limits as the default for residential roads. I will look for opportunities in Parliament to ask Ministers what progress is being made to create more 20mph urban traffic zones across the country.
Birmingham City Council Emergency Transport Plan, funded by the government, aims to create a safer environment for cycling and rapid transit for buses carrying key workers and people making essential journeys by bus. The council’s transport strategy is focused on reducing the large number of short local journeys made by car every day and encouraging people who can to walk and cycle – which will reduce congestion, improve air quality and increase levels of physical activity. You can find more background information about the emergency transport measures at https://covidmeasuresbirmingham.commonplace.is/
Of course, there is no guarantee of real and lasting change without binding targets. Reducing air pollution is crucially important to improve the quality of life for those suffering from heart and lung diseases. Inhalation of PM2.5, the particulates present in air pollution, is a major factor in diseases caused by air pollution, but the levels of PM2.5 that are legal in this country do not match the World Health Organization’s air pollution guidelines. The Government needs to commit itself to reducing pollution and set targets to bring PM2 down.
So National Clean Air Day, do your bit!