Council is dragging feet on pollution, says Gove Environment Secretary: Birmingham slow to tackle health crisis
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The council’s detailed plans for a clean air zone were withdrawn by the council earlier this year and are not expected to be unveiled until after the local elections.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.
> Secretary of State for Environment Michael Gove speaking at the offices on Wednesday