Cleaning up the air in Bradford District

By Dave Baldwin

Bradford is tackling the issue of air pollution head on. The local authority is consulting on plans to introduce a ‘clean air zone’. From October 2021, non-compliant vehicles like buses, coaches, taxis, heavy and light goods vehicles would pay a daily charge to drive into the zone. Private cars would be exempted from the charge. The council is also considering exemptions for small business owners, charities, school, emergency and other specialist vehicles.

Measures to reduce air pollution will have significant beneficial impacts on our children’s health. “Air pollution is harming young lungs. Let’s beat it and unleash our children’s true potential,” said the Breathe GB campaign group.

The shift to a low-carbon economy will be bumpy but will bring economic rewards, as well as environmental ones. According to Defra, cleaner air leads to increased productivity through improvements in public health, leading to reduced workplace absence, and the creation of an environment that is appealing to businesses and the public alike. Pollutants were estimated to be responsible for total productivity losses of up to £2.7 billion a year.

Any change causes uncertainty. But it also brings opportunity. The Government wants to make the UK a world leader in the goods and services focused on tackling air pollution, such as abatement technology, monitoring equipment and modelling skills. It estimates the low-carbon economy has the potential to generate up to £170bn in export sales by 2030. With our advanced manufacturing sector, Bradford should have a chunk of that. 

We know our business community leads the way in many areas of environmental performance. A 2019 survey of 2,000-plus companies across the city region revealed Bradford businesses are more likely to operate schemes to save energy, water and waste. They will tend to use environmentally friendly technologies and have formal environmental accreditations. And they will probably have taken action to clean up their supply chains. Businesses undertaking at least one of these actions are more likely to report stronger growth in turnover and employment.

Bradford has exceptional expertise in what is known as the ‘circular economy’. This is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. The University of Bradford introduced the world’s first circular economy MBA in 2011, equipping students and sponsoring bodies with the skills to use resources and energy more effectively, reuse products and materials and deliver increased profits.

We have to be ambitious. The council submitted a business case to Government that aims to bring levels of nitrogen dioxide to EU limits within the shortest possible timeframe. Ministers have accepted the plan and provided £4m in initial funding to start work. The plan will help vehicle operators to upgrade to zone standards, support the roll-out of electric charging stations across the district, encourage ride sharing and invest in bus, cycle and walking routes.

Councillor Sarah Ferriby, portfolio holder for Healthy People and Healthy Places at Bradford Council, said: “Improving our air quality is a very serious issue that literally costs lives every year and we are determined to take action. It disproportionately affects more vulnerable communities in our district which is why the clean air zone and additional proposals are so important to making Bradford a healthier place to live, work and visit.”

Born in Bradford, the pioneering large-scale research programme, is informing policy development and will analyse the effects of the clean air plan. Dr Rosie McEachan, director of Born in Bradford, said: “We’re proud that our Born in Bradford findings are helping the council find new and ambitious ways of tackling pollution within the district and are planning an exciting new research project to evaluate the impact of the clean air plan on air quality and health. We will be working with Born in Bradford families across the district and training up school children as air quality ‘citizen scientists’ to help monitor the effects on health and wellbeing.”

Cleaning up our act will take maximum effort from public, private and third sector and we will need everyone’s noses pointing in the same direction. Getting it right will help create a more inclusive economy that everyone can succeed in.

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