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Breathing life into Birmingham – CBI Economics 2021

New research from CBI Economics, commissioned by Clean Air Fund, demonstrates how reducing nitrogen dioxide through a clean air zone in Birmingham can boost the local economy and save lives.

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone will save lives and inject millions into local economy by reducing nitrogen dioxide levels in pollution hotspots, new research shows

Analysis by CBI Economics, commissioned by the Clean Air Fund, shows:

  • City would see minimum £7m annual benefit from reduction of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels thanks to the new Clean Air Zone (CAZ) launching in June 2021
  • 16% reduction in NO2 in the city centre estimated to prevent at least 50 deaths each year, and 150 days spent in hospital.[1] This represents around 4% of deaths associated with respiratory conditions.[2]
  • CAZ will target Birmingham’s dirtiest streets: nitrogen dioxide levels exceed legal limits in 17 pollution hotspots around the city.
  • Birmingham’s projected gains substantially smaller than others like London and Manchester, which will implement much wider schemes.

The introduction of a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in Birmingham city centre will deliver significant health and economic benefits by reducing dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in key areas, new research shows. However, the Birmingham scheme’s limited scope could see it lose out in comparison to other major cities like Manchester and London.

Last year CBI Economics analysis, commissioned by the Clean Air Fund, found that the UK economy could benefit to the tune of £1.6 billion  each year if it were to achieve the guidelines set by the WHO for ‘safe’ air quality. This new study from the same organisations builds on this by articulating the economic benefits the CAZ programme would deliver in key UK cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Birmingham and London.

Birmingham is one of several cities implementing a CAZ in response to the UK government’s air quality plan, which requires local authorities to hit legally binding targets for reducing NO2. Vehicles are the largest contributor to NO2 pollution at roadsides, contributing 80% of the total. By restricting vehicles from entering heavily populated or polluted areas, CAZs represent the most effective form of targeted local action to tackle NO2 levels in worst affected areas and across the UK overall.

The CAZ scheme is projected to deliver an average 16% (5 µg/m3) reduction in NO2. The new analysis shows this kind of reduction in Birmingham’s city centre could prevent – at a minimum – 50 deaths each year, and 150 days spent in hospital due solely to NO2 exposure.[3] This represents around 4% of deaths associated with respiratory conditions.[4]  The scheme would inject an additional £2.7m into the city’s economy by preventing deaths and illness from NO2 exposure.[5]

The CAZ will cover the roads inside the A4540 Middleway Ring Road – an area which includes the city centre, where most areas of NO2 exceedance can be found, as well as other locations on major roads in and around the city centre.

The research suggests the proposed CAZ would be effective in targeting the worst affected zones, which include some of Birmingham’s most deprived areas. The UK government sets legally binding limits for NO2 concentrations over a given year and per hour.[6] While Birmingham’s average NO2 concentrations comply with this limit, the most polluted areas exceed it by almost 40% (15 µg/m3).[7] These hotspots include seventeen locations in and around the city centre, bounded by the A4540 Middleway Ring Road[8]. Air pollution has been shown to affect the poorest and most vulnerable in society the most, so tackling it in this way would also help reduce inequality.

However, the gains pale in comparison to those projected for Manchester and London because authorities in those cities are planning much wider schemes. London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has already brought a 44% reduction in NO2 and will expand beyond central London from 25 October 2021, while Manchester’s CAZ will cover the full greater Manchester area. London and Manchester are stand to gain by £48m and £7m respectively.

Jane Burston, Executive Director at the Clean Air Fund said:

“For the first time, these numbers show how the new Clean Air Zone will be good for the health of Birmingham’s residents and its local economy. By targeting the most polluted and neediest areas, the measures will make the city cleaner, greener and better off across the board. This is a great example of locally-led action to deliver on our national commitments to build back better on air quality.”

Richard Butler, CBI West Midlands Director, said:

“Cleaner air within our major cities is an aspiration not only central to improving public health, but also a business-critical issue for firms in Birmingham.

 

“Congested city streets are all too common a sight, slowing business operations and ultimately putting people’s health at risk. The loss of working hours in Birmingham alone runs into the hundreds of thousands.

 

“Building Back Better must have a green thread running through the very middle of it. That means working together towards reaching our net zero targets and making the most of the economic benefits from lowering air pollution in urban areas.”

The researchers make clear that the numbers given are the minimum health and economic benefits these measures would bring, because their analysis did not measure a number of factors. For example, bringing down vehicle emissions would likely also reduce other pollutants, improving air quality will reduce health conditions in which air pollution is a secondary factor, and more people will be exposed to cleaner air than just the inhabitants of Birmingham’s city centre.

Public Health England estimates that between 2017 and 2025 the total cost to the NHS and social care system due to NO2 alone will reach £61 million.[9] In Birmingham, respiratory conditions were the underlying cause of 14% of all deaths and 7% of hospital admissions in 2019.[10] Reducing NO2 levels could therefore prevent premature deaths and reduce hospital admissions associated with exposure to NO2.

The research follows a nationwide report from the same organisations in September 2020, which found that the UK economy could benefit to the tune of £1.6 billion boost each year if it were to achieve the guidelines set by the WHO for ‘safe’ air quality.

 

[1] The number of deaths and hospitalisations will not stay the same as the years go on because of changes in population size and age structure as the deaths prevented accumulate over time. However, given this is a static analysis, the population and employment levels are assumed constant. A full explanation of the methodology can be found in the accompanying methodology document.

[2] This is based on the upper end estimate of 21 deaths prevented, calculated using deaths data from the ONS.

[3] A full explanation of the methodology can be found in the accompanying methodology document.

[4] This is based on the upper end estimate of 21 deaths prevented, calculated using deaths data from the ONS.

[5] A full explanation of the methodology can be found in the accompanying methodology document.

[6] Statutory limit values are legally binding and must not be exceeded. In the case of NO2 this is 40 µg/m3 for the annual mean and 200 µg/m3 for the 1-hour mean. In order for the UK to comply with the limit value, all local areas across the UK must be in compliance.

[7] This is based on the maximum annual average NO2 concentration in Birmingham of 66mps, provided by Ricardo.

[8] Air Quality Consultants (December 2018), Birmingham Clean Air Zone Feasibility Study – Full Business Case Air Quality Modelling Report

[9] PHE (2018) Estimation of costs to the NHS and social care due to the health impacts of air pollution

[10] ONS (2020) Mortality Statistics