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Clean Air Zone: Vital for Sheffield's Wellbeing

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Photo by Andrew Tryon (Creative Commons)

We, the people of Sheffield, are all paying for our dirty air.

I'm writing this article on behalf of Sheffield Climate Alliance, but I have to declare a personal interest. As one of the many people who suffer from cardiac and respiratory conditions, clean air is a subject very close to my heart - and my lungs. I know from personal experience that bad air exacerbates asthma and I find it troubling that air pollution stops children's lungs growing properly.

It is estimated that at least 500 deaths each year in Sheffield are linked to air pollution. Poor air quality is associated with breathing problems like emphysema and bronchiectasis, as well as cancer, heart disease, stroke and dementia. On top of the human cost, it drains our economy due to the costs of healthcare and days off work.

Sheffield [...] has been breaking air quality legal limits since they were introduced

Traffic is a major source of air pollution, including tiny sooty particles (known as PM10 and PM2.5) and the gases known as nitrous oxides (NOₓ). Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) damages children's lungs, whilst nitrous oxide (N2O) is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. If we make our journeys by foot or bike, or use public transport or cleaner vehicles, we clean up the air in Sheffield and help the rest of the planet too. That is why Sheffield Climate Alliance, along with Friends of the Earth and other groups, has been campaigning for over a year to establish a Clean Air Zone in Sheffield to help phase out polluting vehicles.

SCA therefore welcomes the announcement that Sheffield City Council has scheduled a consultation process on a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) from February to April. The Sheffield CAZ will be made up of the inner ring road and everywhere inside it. Buses, coaches, heavy goods vehicles, light goods vehicles and taxis will have to meet clean air standards or pay a daily fee to enter the CAZ. These vehicles have been identified as contributing disproportionate amounts of pollution due to the high number of journeys they make in and out of the city centre. The idea is to use the CAZ to clean them up. People driving private cars won't have to pay and all money raised by the CAZ will be put back into air quality.

As part of its CAZ bid, Sheffield City Council is asking Central Government for money to help clean up our buses and taxis via a mixture of grants and interest-free loans. A good proportion of the bus fleet is already compliant or in the process of being upgraded. The intention is that buses and taxis become clean enough to avoid paying the charge and so won't need to increase fares. If the Government doesn't give the Council the money it needs, however, the plans may go back to the drawing board.

We need to use all the tools to hand

Sheffield, along with many other UK cities, has been breaking air quality legal limits since they were introduced nine years ago. It has taken three high court victories by environmental lawyers ClientEarth to force Central Government to give councils the means to produce effective clean air strategies, including Clean Air Zones.

But a Clean Air Zone is not the whole story. While cleaner buses will emit less pollution along their routes and cleaner taxis will help, in particular in areas like Darnall and Tinsley, there might still be pollution hotspots outside the CAZ. To achieve really clean air throughout the city we need joined-up thinking in our transport plans, encouraging and enabling cycling, walking buses and green walking routes. So SCA hopes the recent £10m bid from Sheffield City Region to the Transforming Cities Fund for measures like these is successful.

To clean up our city's air, we need to use all the tools to hand, including the Clean Air Zone. Breathe deep, raise your voice and contribute to the consultation.

Rachael Hand is Coordinator for Sheffield Climate Alliance

Find the CAZ consultation at

Next article in issue 131

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