Air pollution: an experiment was carried on in Kings Heath, and residents are now asking for more

BBC Programme Fighting for Air

BBC Programme Fighting for Air

Viewers were reacting last night to an air pollution experiment carried on in Kings Heath, asking for more action from the City Council. ‘Fighting For Air’ tackles the issue of car pollution in our towns and cities. 

Viewers in Birmingham were given an insight into a unique experiment carried on in Kings Heath recently. The BBC2 documentary, Fighting For Air, which aired last night (January 10th), tackled the issue of air pollution, specifically from cars.

Taking to the busy high street in Kings Heath, Dr Xand van Tulleken, along with scientists and members of the community, were able to reduce the amount of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) significantly. Combustion engines circulation is the most prominent source of this pollutant. High levels of NO2 are particularly harmful to people with asthma.

Thanks to a few specific measures, the experiment successfully reduced the amount of this air pollutant on the street by 10-30%:

  • Parking bay suspensions
  • Hedges installation
  • Bus vouchers
  • Traffic lights changing

There was also an awareness campaign inviting parents to leave their cars at home when dropping off or picking up their children from school. These all proved to be effective in managing pollutants to much safer levels, according to experts Francis Pope and Robert Leigh, who collected and analysed the data.

Birmingham City Council reacted positively to Fighting For Air in a tweet:


But residents were not all satisfied with the Council’s current efforts in making the city’s air safer and had other suggestions. In particular, improving Birmingham’s cycling safety.






Birmingham is a motor city

In a follow-up conversation, Andi Smith, enterprise manager at Urban Cycles, shared a few thoughts with the Eastside about the documentary.

The main observation is what we all know, that for decades Birmingham has been a city designed to accommodate the most cars, and the consequences of that decision is our present air quality, some of the worst we can find in Europe, and so that needs to change.

Last night’s documentary was more of a contribution to a long ongoing debate, but fundamentally, we need to move from the debate towards action.

It strikes me that everybody knows the issue, but the question is: who will have the courage to deliver unique change?

There are easier, quicker and cheaper ways of dealing with air pollution

Aside from the Council’s decade-long plan to develop its cycle network, Smith argues that several easier, quicker and cheaper steps can be taken to make cycling more obvious as a commuting option.

Also, it is currently impossible to get permission from the City Council to have bike parking on your residential roadside.

I think an incredibly simple thing to do would be to just give local residents the ability to make that decision and to occupy their own street space the way they would prefer, but we have none of that.

Smith would also favour simple car bans on selected areas:

You can make simple decisions to ban cars from certain areas. Why is it that in the second city, you can drive all the way along Colmore road into the heart of the city? That’s just completely unnecessary, and it would cost almost nothing to change that policy.

While most authorities are afraid of hurting local businesses in the restricted areas, Andy thinks that, in a long-term trajectory, it would actually be much better for business.

For the residents, Smith would advise starting with achievable steps. Rather than saying “I’ll ride my bike everywhere from now on“, it would be more realistic to select a few days and occasions first. This way, taking further positive steps will be easier.

Gavin Passmore, speaking for Sustrans West Midlands, also encourages people in considering small changes first, but would also like organisations and employers to be involved too. “We saw how a school increased active travel for a day and reduced pollution, but what if every school and workplace supported their staff to travel in a more responsible way? We could see some real change that would create healthier and more productive workplaces and communities.”

Passmore recognises recent efforts made by the City Council but insists there is still a lot more to be done that will require more investments with regards to walking, cycling and public transport.

The City Council may consider taking out parking spaces and charging Clean Air Zones

Aside from the ongoing cycle network development and a few other projects, the Birmingham City Council is showing some interest in implementing concrete measures with regards to parking spaces. Councillor Lisa Trickett, the cabinet member for air quality, replied to the Eastside:

“Air pollution is a major public health crisis and we have both a moral and legal duty to tackle it as soon as possible. I have committed to taking all measures necessary to ensure that every single person who lives in, works in and visits Birmingham has access to clean air, which is a basic human right.

Any measures taken must be evidence-led and if the evidence shows that taking out parking spaces will help traffic run more smoothly and reduce air pollution then this is certainly something we will look to implement.”

The City Council may also launch this year a full local public consultation on the implementation of government-instructed Clean Air Zones.

In its reply to the central government in London, the Council expressed a preference for charging Clean Air Zones, which would require drivers to pay to enter these zones if their vehicle is of a type which emits too much pollution. A new Clean Air Act was also suggested.

Other steps taken so far include wood fuels restrictions, tighter emissions standards for taxis and private hires and some additional long-term strategies.

City Budget 2018: make your voice heard

Residents can still submit proposals and make their voice heard by filling an online form for the City Council’s 2018 budget consultation, which ends this Monday, January 15th, by clicking here.

You can look for the air pollution from your specific area by entering your postcode in this article.

You can also watch a short excerpt of the experiment here and stream the full programme here.


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