Skip navigation
The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Killer congestion blighting air quality in regional cities, study warns

  • The UK's regional cities are in breach of the legal limits on air quality by up to 150%, threatening the lives of children and adults, report warns.
  • Government, councils and transport bodies must back radical action to improve air quality, ahead of the publication of DEFRA’s Clean Air Strategy later this month.
  • Focus should be on incentives for drivers to upgrade to electric cars and roll-out of hydrogen powered trains in the North as part of a Northern energy revolution, study concludes.

The government must do much more to address the crisis of toxic fumes killing thousands in the UK’s regional cities, including phasing out diesel vehicles and introducing incentives for purchasing electric cars, according to a new study.

The warning comes in the latest report from leading think-tank IPPR North, which explores the North of England’s future transport energy needs.

Current trends estimate that congestion in the North will increase by 3 per cent annually, 'Gearing up for the transition: The role of transport in a Northern energy strategy' notes — but cautions that even by 2030, on current projections, only 5 per cent of UK cars will be powered by electricity rather than petrol or diesel, threatening the government’s aspiration for the UK to be the world-leader in clean air cars.

The study adds that despite repeated attempts by the government to block urgent action to deal with the problem, the courts have mandated the government to reduce illegal pollution levels; this, alongside the North’s green energy jobs potential, increase the case for action.

But while clean air in the capital has risen on the political agenda in recent years, IPPR North warns killer fumes are blighting UK regional cities too, especially in the North of England: for instance, Teesside and the North West & Merseyside zones are the third and fourth regions in the UK with the filthiest air, breaching the legal limit of toxic NO2 concentrations by 150 per cent.

The report comes ahead of the government releasing its clean air strategy later this month, which could see the compulsory introduction of Clean Air Zones in order to maintain legal limits on pollution.

To save lives and boost the green economy, the report calls for central government, councils and transport bodies to:

  • radically improve green public transport links, especially rail connections and prioritising hydrogen-powered trains
  • pledge to phase out diesel cars over the coming years, in part to help spur the electric car market, in which sector the North is becoming a world leader
  • introducing a new car scrappage scheme to encourage car owners to upgrade to electric vehicles.

Darren Baxter, researcher at IPPR North, said:

“The evidence shows toxic air is killing up to 40,000 children and adults a year. This is one of the biggest problems of our time, but too little attention is paid to this key issue, especially outside the capital.

“To prevent more avoidable deaths, we need to see big incentives for those buying a car to go electric, funded in part by a tax on the most-polluting vehicles, as well as seeing a real commitment by councils and the Department for Transport to make clean air a top priority.

“By taking the killer air crisis seriously, we can prevent many unnecessary deaths and ill-health, especially in our children, while preparing the way for a Northern green jobs revolution.”

ends

In numbers:

  • Around 40,000 deaths per year in the UK are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, with an estimated overall economic cost in excess of 3.7 per cent of UK GDP.
  • Estimates put the cost of congestion in Manchester and Liverpool alone in 2015 at £2 billion.
  • Transport is responsible for around 25 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Contact:

Ash Singleton, a.singleton@ippr.org, 07887 422 789.

Notes:

The report is the latest publication from IPPR North’s Northern Energy Taskforce, which was established to oversee an ambitious programme of work to develop an energy strategy for the North of England.

The Taskforce is chaired by Sir John Harman, the former Environment Agency chair, alongside a number of high-profile Taskforce figures with expertise across infrastructure, engineering, finance, academia and local government. It is supported by IPPR staff in a research, press and secretariat capacity.