Air Necessities: Place-based approaches to a pollution crisis

Publication Details

Air Necessities: Place-based approaches to a pollution crisis sets out how cities all over the country can take the lead in tackling air pollution caused by road traffic. Air pollution, particularly that generated from road traffic, kills the equivalent of 40,000 people each year, and costs the NHS and the economy billions of pounds. Increased use of diesel vehicles has led to unacceptable levels of pollution, and the effects are worst in our city centres, with 16 currently over the legal limit for Nitrogen oxide pollution.

Churchill once said “never let a good crisis go to waste”. The Government’s revised air pollution plans are due to be published on the 24th April 2017, and represents a real opportunity to change the debate. Alongside immediate measures to clean up vehicles with low-emission fuels, the response to air pollution must use this opportunity to improve people’s health, upgrade our transport networks and transform the urban environment.

While cities need clear national support, air pollution is not just a London issue. To get to grips with the problem in different cities around the country, different tools are needed, with Clean Air Zones and Pollution Reduction Vouchers to scrap polluting old cars. The Government must act now to provide these to councils, who can bring together different strands with a focus on their own place.

Director of ResPublica, Phillip Blond, said: “The government should be applauded for their efforts to reduce the toxic emissions which continue to pollute the air of Britain’s cities and damage people’s health.

“We must be careful, however, that any levies on drivers entering urban areas are not simply a congestion charge but are used instead to dramatically improve air quality.

“One key point must be that if we make the polluters pay, we should also use that money to help the owners of polluting cars and vehicles to offset refit costs in order to clean up their emissions.”

Report author Tom Follett said: “We need to make sure Clean Air Zones work well if high levels of pollution are going to be tackled. This means reducing the number of polluting vehicles as well as encouraging a more sustainable approach to transport across the country.

“As well as helping car and taxi drivers we must also make sure that, while we concentrate on reducing pollution from buses, the use of public transport is encouraged. HGVs also have a vital role in our economy and therefore, while their emissions should be constrained – we need to work with hauliers to make sure Britain can keep working.

“Councils will be vital in supporting the infrastructure and fuelling sites for low-emission freight, both through the planning system and through offering business rate exemptions.”

Neil Parish MP, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, said: “I welcome the publication of ResPublica’s report on improving air quality in our towns and cities. The state of air quality in urban areas is a national disgrace and it’s high time the Government took comprehensive action to keep air pollution levels below legal limits.

“The report comes at just the right time, with the Government legally obliged to produce a new draft air quality plan by April. It contains a whole string of policy recommendations – from Pollution Reduction Vouchers to get the dirtiest vehicles of our roads, to support for retro-fitting taxis and buses in Clean Air Zones – which the Government should carefully consider.

“The report rightly highlights how the devolution agenda and the election of new Metro-Mayors is a prime opportunity to put air quality to the top of the political agenda.

“I hope Defra, the DfT and wider Government will consider the recommendations over the coming months.”

Dr Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test and Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, said: “I welcome many of the recommendations made in this report by ResPublica. The implementation of Clean Air Zones provides an opportunity to really tackle the issue of poor air quality if done right.  These zones should be implemented alongside a strong public awareness campaign and real opportunities for drivers to transition away from polluting vehicles and towards low emission vehicles as ResPublica rightly outline.”

Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South and former Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, said: “I am pleased to see this report, which outlines the ambitious measures needed if we are to clean up our air and improve people’s health.

“It’s clear that air pollution isn’t limited to four or five cities, and I hope the government will commit to working with all cities who want to achieve clean, world-class transport networks.

“Nottingham is leading the way on this and now Ministers must give the council the powers it needs to go even further.”

In partnership with:

The Energy & Utilities Alliance & Calor



  • Tom Follett

    Policy and Projects Manager

    Tom manages and delivers projects around place-based policy and devolution, working across both ResPublica’s research and consulting functions. His recent projects include Air Necessities and research for Newport Council’s City of Democracy initiative. Tom’s work has featured in publications ranging...

    Tom Follett