Six out of ten Conservative voters would support local authorities implementing charges for drivers to use ‘clean air zones’ to tackle air pollution in towns and cities, a think tank has claimed.
The policy measure was debated at a fringe session at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester yesterday (1 October), organised by the liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue.
‘Charging’ clean air zones, where drivers are required to pay a fee to operate some of the most polluting vehicles in areas of high air pollution have been identified by government as an effective means of improving air quality.
However, as part of its air quality plan published in July, which requires more than 20 local authorities to look into the most appropriate measures to tackle air pollution in their locality, the government has claimed that councils should only look to employ charging zones where other options are found to be less effective.
Speaking at the ‘Cleaning up the air we breathe’ debate, Sam Hall, senior researcher at Bright Blue said: “We broadly support a localised approach.
“But where we were disappointed and quite critical of government is that it failed to endorse charging zones, which essentially charge older polluting vehicles. Government said that councils were only to use those as a final resort despite the technical appendix stating that this was the most effective measure.â€?
On the issue of support for clean air zones among voters, he added: “I think it is a measure that Conservatives should support. It is a market-based approach. Polling that Bright Blue has done tested what Conservative voters think about clean air zones and found that about six out of 10 would support them.â€?
The panel session also heard from Alison Cook, director of policy and communications for the British Lung Foundation, who also voiced her support for the policy measure, and called for increased public education on air pollution.
She said: “People do not have enough information about air pollution on their street, at their school or in their workplace. If they don’t have enough information they can’t raise their voice.
“If we are going to sort this, we have got to be ambitious and restrict the number of vehicles in our towns and cities. Clean air zones have been shown to be the most effective option, implementing them will require national leadership and ambition and local action. “
Simon Alcock, head of UK public affairs at the environmental campaign group ClientEarth, also addressed the event, and claimed that the government’s plan had ‘positive areas’ but suggested that evidence supported charging zones being implemented in highly polluted areas.
He said: “The plan was based on the latest modeling and in the technical report, it says charging clean air zones are the most effective way of tackling air pollution but the government is saying that should be the last resort.
Mr Alcock added that the proposals effectively ‘pass the buck’ to local authorities, who will now have to explore the feasibility of measures to tackle air pollution locally.
He said: “Of course they should have a say in their areas, but I would argue that they lack the expertise and the funding needed to carry out these feasibility studies.â€?
Conservative MP Andrew Selous, a member of the Health Select Committee also spoke at the event, and claimed that addressing air quality would provide economic, as well as health benefits.
“In terms of approach I think we should aim high,â€? he commented. “As Conservatives we should be comfortable in doing that. I can see it as a comparative economic advantage in having good air in this country.
“If you are an internationally mobile chief executive, and you can locate your corporate headquarters anywhere in Europe one of the decisions is going to be what is the air going to be like for my family and my children. I’d like us to be at the top, and I think that would work in our favour.â€?