Coun­cil is drag­ging feet on pol­lu­tion, says Gove En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary: Birm­ing­ham slow to tackle health cri­sis

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Neil Elkes Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Cor­re­spon­dent

EN­VI­RON­MENT Sec­re­tary Michael Gove has ac­cused Birm­ing­ham City Coun­cil of drag­ging its feet over air pol­lu­tion which is said to con­trib­ute to 900 pre­ma­ture deaths a year.

The Con­ser­va­tive Cab­i­net min­is­ter was de­fend­ing ac­cu­sa­tions that the Gov­ern­ment is not do­ing enough to help cities deal with poor air qual­ity and the health im­pacts.

In­stead he said that Labour-run Birm­ing­ham had been slow to re­spond to the pub­lic health cri­sis.

The coun­cil’s de­tailed plans for a clean air zone were with­drawn by the coun­cil ear­lier this year and are not ex­pected to be un­veiled un­til after the lo­cal elec­tions.

But Mr Gove de­scribed Birm­ing­ham as “re­luc­tant to en­gage” on the is­sue. He said: “There are some lo­cal au­thor­i­ties across the coun­try who have ac­cepted their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and said they want to play a pos­i­tive and proac­tive part in help­ing to deal with this prob­lem.

“But it’s been strik­ing that the min­is­ter for air qual­ity and the en­vi­ron­ment Therese Coffey has had to rat­tle the cage in or­der to try to get Birm­ing­ham to re­alise that they have a spe­cific re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

He de­nied that the Gov­ern­ment was pass­ing buck.

“Gov­ern­ment is providing money, hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds, and we’re pre­pared to work with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to de­sign ex­actly the clean air zone scheme that they want.

“But Birm­ing­ham have been drag­ging their feet.”

Par­ties in Birm­ing­ham are di­vided over the case for a city cen­tre con- ges­tion charge or pol­lu­tion tax, but Mr Gove said that an in­struc­tion from White­hall was not the so­lu­tion.

Dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try need dif­fer­ent so­lu­tions, he said, adding that in Lon­don a con­ges­tion charge was sen­si­ble, but it might not be in other cities. He added: “Whether or not you should have charg­ing in any other lo­cal area should be for the lo­cal author­ity to de­ter­mine.”

And he praised Birm­ing­ham Con­ser­va­tives for com­ing up with “imag­i­na­tive ideas” such as the green walls on the As­ton Ex­press­way to ab­sorb pol­lu­tion, more use of canals for non per­ish­able freight and con­sol­i­da­tion ware­houses to cut the num­ber of de­liv­er­ies into the cen­tre.

He added: “It is strik­ing that the coun­cil hasn’t been clear about which way it wants to go and has in ef­fect been wash­ing its hands of it. What we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced from Bir-

What we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced from Birm­ing­ham has been a lack of en­ergy.

ming­ham has been a lack of en­ergy.”

But Labour hit back, point­ing out that the en­vi­ron­men­tal charity Client Earth had to take the Gov­ern­ment to court to get them to act on air qual­ity.

Hodge Hill Labour MP Liam Byrne added that the Gov­ern­ment needed to do more to help cab driv­ers re­place their cars with cleaner ve­hi­cles in or­der to meet strict new emis­sions lim­its be­ing ap­plied from De­cem­ber 2019.

“Taxi driv­ers are fac­ing a fi­nan­cial cliff edge. They need Gov­ern­ment help to lease or buy cleaner cars but they are be­ing of­fered noth­ing by Mr Gove,” he said.

Michael Gove

> Sec­re­tary of State for En­vi­ron­ment Michael Gove speak­ing at the of­fices on Wed­nes­day

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