Yorkshire leaders have called on the Government to help fund Clean Air Zones in an effort to stem pollution and boost economies.
Civic figures from Leeds and Sheffield are among the various nationwide bosses today urging Chancellor Sajid Javid to prioritise the issue in the upcoming new Spending Round.
Fourteen mayors and political leaders are calling on ministers to support a network of 30 new and existing Clean Air Zones, where the most polluting vehicles are fined, arguing that it would save money for the NHS.
A report released by UK100, a network of local leaders, shows that towns and cities could see an economic return of £6.5bn with the support, while the Royal College of Physicians has assessed that the costs attributed to health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution are more than £20bn per year.
Under the plan, poorer residents and small businesses would be offered incentives of between £2,000 and £6,000 to either upgrade existing vehicles or get rid of their older, polluting ones and switch to a cleaner form of transport such as electric vehicles or public transport.
The leaders argue that a national network of zones across England, including London, could be "enhanced and unlocked" if an additional £1.5bn is committed from Government and business to tackle air pollution in the most polluted towns and cities.
It would bring together £1bn in the upcoming Spending Round alongside £500m from business contributions, allowing the zones to be introduced in all of the places the Government warns will have illegal levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) by 2021.
This includes towns and cities across the country such as Leeds and Sheffield - where charging systems are set to come into force, affecting certain types of vehicles such as buses and HGVs but not residents - Bristol, Coventry, Guildford, Manchester, Newcastle and Southampton.
The UK100 report calls for a "partnership with industry" to contribute to a national vehicle renewal scheme, similar to how car manufacturers have contributed to Germany's Sustainability Mobility Fund for cities.
Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said: “Poor air quality has a detrimental effect on people’s health, leading to spiralling costs for our NHS and, ultimately, more premature deaths.
"It’s crucial that we tackle this head-on.
“That’s why, here in Sheffield City Region, I’m championing active travel with the appointment of my Active Travel Commissioner, Dame Sarah Storey. Together we are working to help more people to walk, cycle or use public transport to travel. Switching to less-polluting forms of transport needs to be the norm, not the exception.
“But regional leaders need more power and resources to make truly transformative changes. We can’t do this alone. That’s why, along with my fellow Metro Mayors and Local Authority leaders we are calling on the Chancellor to support us and tackle this important issue head-on.”
Councillor James Lewis, Leeds City Council's executive member with responsibility for air quality said the authority is "already helping businesses affected by our Clean Air Charging Zone switch to cleaner vehicles.
"Doing so is the best way to reduce air pollution to within legal limits before the zone’s introduction.
“However there are no ‘safe’ levels of air pollution and it is vitally important that we do everything possible to protect residents from the serious health effects associated with dirty air.
“With more support from Government, local authorities could make it easier for businesses, employers and residents to help reduce air pollution by switching to cleaner vehicles or investing in sustainable travel alternatives.
“Ultimately, this would support the Government’s own long-term ambitions to transition to zero emission road transport and would also help achieve the UK’s carbon reduction targets in light of the Climate Emergency."
It comes after environment campaigners from Extinction Rebellion protested in Leeds in July, while another demonstration took place in Manchester this weekend.
A UK100 report into the impact of London’s ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) introduced in April this year shows that the numbers of older, polluting vehicles has reduced by over a quarter.
A survey by Hitachi from earlier this year showed that a majority of the public are in favour of Clean Air Zones, with 50 per cent supporting plans to charge motorists to enter a zone, while only 22 per cent disagreed.
Polly Billington, Director of UK100, a network of local leaders that campaigns on clean air, said: “Cleaning up the air in our towns and cities makes sound economic sense and this study demonstrates that. It will boost the health of our communities and save the NHS money.
"Sensible investment by national government is needed to support local authorities to take the most polluting vehicles off our roads while ensuring that the poorest in our towns and cities are not the hardest hit by pollution and measures to tackle it.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan described current air pollution levels as "a national crisis," adding: "Everyone deserves the right to breathe clean air and the Chancellor simply cannot afford to delay immediate action on this invisible killer.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We know the impact air pollution has on communities around the UK, which is why we are stepping up the pace and taking urgent action to improve air quality.
“We are working hard to reduce transport emissions and are already investing £3.5 billion to clean up our air, while our Clean Air Strategy has been commended by the World Health Organization as an ‘example for the rest of the world to follow’."