Whoever becomes South Yorkshire’s first directly-elected mayor should introduce a ‘clean air charge’ to tackle pollution as a “quick policy win” to set the tone for their time in office, according to a leading think-tank.
Centre for Cities says in a report that the Sheffield City Region mayor, who takes office in May, should also focus on making city and town centres more attractive to high-skilled businesses and addressing local skills gaps.
This might be controversial with some drivers, but it would make a big difference in improving air quality.Andrew Carter on a possible ‘clean air charge’
It says the metro mayor, the first to be elected in Yorkshire, will have “a unique opportunity to make a big difference on the issues that matter most to people’s day-to-day lives, such as housing, skills and transport”.
Andrew Carter, the group’s chief executive, said: “However, he or she will also face significant challenges, from establishing the mayoral office in the face of opposition from some quarters locally, to acting on his or her campaign pledges and preparing the city region for Brexit.
“To make a success of the role, it’s vital that the mayor acts quickly to address the most pressing issues that the city region faces.”
Centre for Cities suggests introducing a clean air charge similar to that proposed in Leeds in a bid to tackle pollution and fund better public transport across the city region.
Under the Leeds plans, which emerged last year, taxis, private hire vehicles, HGVs and buses and coaches which are not compliant with emission standards would incur a charge to enter a ‘clean air zone’.
Andrew Carter: “Pollution is a significant problem in the Sheffield city region, which is home to some of the highest levels of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) in the country, and has the highest share of residents commuting by car in the North of England.
“The new mayor can quickly make their mark by introducing a clean air charge in the city region’s most congested areas, such as the city centre of Sheffield, aimed specifically at the most polluting vehicles.
“This might be controversial with some drivers, but it would make a big difference in improving air quality. It would also generate much-needed funding which could be used to improving public transport links across the city region.
“In particular, the mayor could use this revenue and the newly devolved powers he or she will have to improve bus connections in the city region, and to encourage more people to use them.”
Mr Carter said the Sheffield City Region lags behind most of the rest of the country in its ability to attract large numbers of high-skilled businesses to its major centres, with only 39 per cent of local jobs being highly-skilled compared with a national average of 45 per cent.
He said: “The mayor can help to address this problem by setting out a spatial plan which focuses on making the city centres of Sheffield, Doncaster and Barnsley more attractive to high skilled businesses – for example, by improving office space or strengthening transport infrastructure.”
The election on May 3 will cost £1.9m, to be paid for by the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, which will use its reserves in the absence of government support.
The winning candidate will have virtually none of the powers promised when a devolution deal was signed by council leaders and then George Osborne in 2015. This is because last year Doncaster and Barnsley councils pulled out of the deal in favour of ‘One Yorkshire’ deal.
The cost of the election will be spent on printing and distributing ballot papers and manning polling stations but one of the biggest costs is a booklet explaining the election and detailing the candidates.