Monthly Archives: February 2017

UK’s most polluted cities urge Prime Minister to take action on air quality

In a historic move, the leaders of the six UK cities worst affected by air pollution have called on the Prime Minister to take urgent action to clean up the country’s toxic air.

Every year in Britain 40,000 people die early as a result of air pollution (1) and research from London demonstrates the resulting health effects disproportionately impact the most deprived communities (2).

For the first time, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the leaders of Derby, Nottingham, Leeds, Birmingham and Southampton have written to Theresa May urgently calling for:

  • making vehicle manufacturers more accountable for emissions – with a zero-tolerance approach to malpractice,following the recent Volkswagen scandal;
  • national minimum emissions standards for private hire vehicles to ensure local requirements are not undermined;
  • greater regulation powers over the use of diesel generators;
  • a new 21st century Clean Air Act which will update existing legislation;
  • enshrining the ‘right to clean air’ in law after the UK leaves the European Union; and
  • unlocking new powers for local authorities, particularly regarding limiting construction and river emissions.

The letter describes the government’s current £3 million fund for local authorities to clean up their air as “woefully inadequate” and criticises the uncertainty around funding for transport schemes for preventing accurate and detailed planning in the long-term.

It also underlines the fact air pollution is not a problem local authorities can solve alone, they need government to devolve powerful fiscal incentives such as Vehicle Excise Duty and create a national diesel vehicle scrappage fund.

It comes as the government prepares to consult on a new national air quality plan to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide as soon as possible, following the recent High Court ruling against its previous plan.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The quality of the air we breathe, both in London and in major cities across the UK, is killing thousands of people every year and is creating a national health emergency. As city leaders, we are doing what we can to tackle this problem, but the fact is we are fighting with one arm tied behind our backs and lasting progress will only be made if national government matches the ambitious action we are taking. The time for urgent action is now.”

Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Judith Blake, said: “Leeds City Council takes air quality very seriously and has been working on a number of initiatives to help tackle air pollution in the city. We are now calling on the government to give more support to Leeds, as well as the other cities identified by Defra as needing to implement a Clean Air Zone, through the introduction of new legislation around the better regulation of all types of emissions sources, alongside aligning key priorities with the introduction of Clean Air Zones.”

Leader of Derby City Council, Councillor Ranjit Banwait, said: “In 2015 Derby City Council was identified by DEFRA, along with four other cities, as having areas of air quality exceedance.  The city council is lobbying government to provide the necessary resources to ensure that the city can make the necessary transition without impacting adversely on local services and to ensure that residents obtain the health and well-being benefits in the future.“

Leader of Southampton City Council, Councillor Simon Letts, said: “The quality of the air we breathe is an issue which affects everybody that lives in the city. We can only act on this issue with government support and along with the leaders of other affected areas I have written today to the Prime Minister requesting that action to improve air quality be prioritised.”

Leader of Birmingham City Council, Councillor John Clancy, said: “Air pollution is now a public health crisis in this country and we need real leadership from the Government. Our towns and cities are keen to tackle this issue but we must be given the tools and funding needed to secure the future health of our citizens. The time for action is now.”

Leader of Nottingham City Council, Councillor Jon Collins, said: “Nottingham is already carrying out a wide range of measures to improve air quality, including investment in trams, electric buses and cycling infrastructure. We want not only to deliver a workable and effective Clean Air Zone by 2020, but also to take a joined-up approach by aligning a range of proposals to ensure we are tackling air pollution in Nottingham as effectively and comprehensively as possible – but we need Government support to help deliver our ambitions.”

The Mayor of London has proposed to implement a wide-ranging package of measures to clean up London’s air, including a £10 toxicity charge – or ‘T-charge’ – for the most polluting vehicles later this year.

  1. Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health: ‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’ (
  2. British Lung Foundation: ‘The Battle for Breath – the impact of lung disease in the UK’ (

Clean Air Zones

  • Clean Air Zones will target areas of a city where air quality problems are most serious, by reducing pollution and encourage the replacement of old, polluting vehicles with modern, cleaner vehicles.
  • In 2105, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton were identified by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as having breached legal limits for air quality.
  • Last year, a public consultation was held about implementing Clean Air Zones in these five cities by 2020. The government is currently examining the responses.

We need answers on Surrey ‘sweetheart deal’ reports

GUardian Surrey 'sweetheart deal'

I’ve joined with other council leaders from across the country to demand answers from the Prime Minister about a deal the Government is alleged to have hatched to give Surrey County Council special help to address the social care funding crisis.

We are asking whether it is the case that Surrey council leader David Hodge agreed to call off a referendum proposing a 15 per cent council tax rise in return for a secret agreement by the Department for Communities and Local Government to plug a huge gap in the council’s budget caused by social care costs and spending cuts.

Surrey is by no means alone in facing an acute and growing social care crisis.

Here in Birmingham, we spent £346 million on adult social care seven years ago. Taking inflation into account, we’d need to spend £420 million now to be delivering services at the same level.

In fact, because of the Government’s austerity regime, we will be able to spend about £230 million in 2017-18.

Our spending on caring for older people has been decimated. Cut by almost half since 2010.

The independent King’s Fund charity believes that in two years there will be a £2.8 billion gap across the country between demand for social care and local authority resources to pay for social care.

By that time public spending on social care will fall to less than one per cent of GDP.

So, if the Government is prepared to help Surrey it must give the same help to all other councils.

Here is the text of the letter to Theresa May:

The Prime Minister

10 Downing Street

London SW1A 2AA

Prime Minister,

We are writing regarding funding arrangements for Conservative-run Surrey County Council. Specifically, the alleged reason behind David Hodge’s decision to drop a planned referendum on increasing council tax by 15 per cent to cover the severe shortfalls in social care, after apparently holding ‘several conversations’ with Whitehall figures.

It has been widely reported in leaked texts, sent by David Hodge supposedly intended for Nick King, Sajid Javid’s special advisor, that DCLG was working on a ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’

In response, as Leaders of Labour councils and council groups, we have a series of questions:

  • Was a deal struck for Surrey County Council?
  • If so, what are the details of the deal?
  • Why was a special deal struck with Surrey behind closed doors?
    Does the Government finally recognise that local Government is grossly underfunded and is that why they have given a special deal to Surrey?
  • Does the Government now recognise that there will be a £2.6bn shortfall in social care funding by 2020?
  • If a deal was struck, will Ministers offer the same deal given to Surrey to all councils, regardless of political affiliation, when the Local Government finance settlement is published on 22nd February?

We have a crisis in social care, resulting from the Conservative Government’s cuts to local authority funding. Secret backroom deals are not the answer. We urgently need a proper solution, which means providing councils with the funding they needed to solve this crisis.

Given the public interest in this matter we will be publishing this letter.

Yours sincerely,

Barrie Grunwald     St Helen’s Council

Mohammed Butt    Brent Council

Richard Watts          Islington Council

Stewart Young         Cumbria County Council

Simon Henig            Durham County Council

Nick Forbes              Newcastle City Council

Lewis Herbert          Cambridge City Council

Peter Martland        Milton Keynes Council

Warren Morgan      Brighton & Hove City Council

Jaz Athwal                 Redbridge Council

Sharon Taylor          Stevenage Council

Simon Greaves        Bassetlaw Council

Peter John                Southwark Council

Sam Dixon                Cheshire West and Chester Council

Steven Brady           Hull City Council

Iain Malcolm            South Tyneside Council

Ray Oxby                   North East Lincolnshire Council

David Budd              Middlesborough Council

Jean Stretton           Oldham Council

Simon Letts              Southampton Council

Sue Jeffrey                Redcar and Cleveland Council

Doug Taylor             Enfield Council

Susan Hinchcliffe    Bradford Council

Mark Townsend      Burnley District Council

Hazel Simmons       Luton Council

Alan Rhodes             Nottinghamshire County Council

Claire Kober             Harringey Council

Peter Box                  Wakefield Council

Christopher Akers-Belcher          Hartlepool Council

Richard Leese          Manchester City Council

Judith Blake              Leeds City Council

Bob Price                  Oxford Council

Tom Beattie             Corby Council

Sachan Shah            Harrow Council

Bob Cook                  Stockton Council

John Clancy              Birmingham City Council

Julian Bell                  Ealing Council

Julie Dore                  Sheffield City Council

Steve Bullock           Lewisham Council

Shaun Davies           Telford & Wrekin Council

Terry O’Neill             Warrington Council

Stephen Lydon        Stroud Council

Phil Davies                Wirral Council

Alexander Ganotis Stockport Council

Steve Eling                Sandwell Council

Sarah Hayward       Camden Council

Peter Lamb              Crawley Council

Simon Blackburn    Blackpool Council

Steve Houghton      Barnsley Council

Jon Collins                 Nottingham City Council

Robin Wales             Newham Council

Alistair Bradley        Chorley Council

Stephen Alambritis            Merton Council

Darren Rodwell       Barking and Dagenham Council

Ian Maher                 Sefton Council

Ros Jones                  Doncaster Council

Roger Lawrence      Wolverhampton Council

Martin Gannon       Gateshead Council

Tim Swift                   Calderdale Council

Cliff Morris                Bolton Council

Pete Lowe                 Dudley Council

Tony Newman         Croydon Council


Birmingham already leading the way on Government’s housing plan

The Government’s Housing White Paper appears, on the face of it, to be a welcome if somewhat overdue admission that the housing supply market is broken and cannot be fixed if left entirely to the vagaries of free market forces.

In a change of direction, the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, has made it clear that state intervention will be necessary if the number of homes required to address the housing crisis are to be built, and that local government must play a leading role in overseeing a sharp increase in the rate of construction.

Indeed, commenting on social media after publication of the White Paper, Mr Javid said something with which I am able to agree entirely: “Our broken housing market is the biggest barrier to progress in Britain today.”

This council’s strategy of working with all housing providers is I am sure being recognised by Government as a model to follow.  We now need the Housing Minster to emphasise that local government’s role should include the provision of new social housing as well as providing homes for private rental, and that the Government is serious about affordable home ownership.

Two themes in particular running through the White Paper will be welcomed in Birmingham.

The first, a £3 billion fund to help smaller building firms challenge major developers, should improve the supply side and help to create and safeguard jobs in the construction industry. It is vital that a broader range of organisations be encouraged to build homes, rather than the ‘usual suspects’ of five or six construction conglomerates, that have failed to deliver adequately in the past.

The second theme, reducing the time allowed between planning permission and the start of building from three years to two years, will serve as a clear signal to developers that they cannot sit on land once planning permission has been granted and must get on with the job.

As the White Paper notes, correctly: “There is concern that it may be in the interests of speculators and developers to snap up land for housing and then sit back for a while as prices continue to rise.”

The Government’s proposed housing strategy comes not a moment too soon if the pressures on all councils to meet the growing needs of citizens are to be met. I’m pleased to report that the Birmingham Development Plan (BDP), setting out how we intend to respond to the demand for new homes, has been approved by the Government.

We must not underestimate the scale of the challenges that lie ahead. The BDP makes it clear that some 89,000 new homes will be required for Birmingham citizens by 2031. We estimate there is sufficient space within the city boundary for just 51,000 homes, leaving 38,000 properties to be built in neighbouring local authorities across the city border.

It has been necessary to identify a small proportion of the Birmingham green belt, in Sutton Coldfield, to build up to 6,000 homes. This is a strategy that has been wholly endorsed on the grounds of “exceptional need” by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Radical plans to build new homes in Birmingham city centre are taking shape. We expect over the next few years to deliver 10,000 properties at Smithfield, Snow Hill and Curzon Street, an unprecedented rate of growth in city living.

It is precisely because we have been able to identify extensive city centre land for housing development that we can limit building on green belt land.

The housing crisis can only be fixed through local government intervention and Birmingham city council stands ready to play a leading role through the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust, which has built over 2,000 new homes for sale or affordable rent since 2009, with plans for up to 500 homes for affordable rent also in place.

I also note with interest the following statement in the White Paper: “Housing markets are different right across the country, and we are interested in the scope for bespoke housing deals with authorities in high demand areas, which have a genuine ambition to build.

“We will look seriously at any request from local authorities for Government powers to be used to support delivery in their local area, and will be prepared to consider all the levers at our disposal to do so, so long as this results in genuinely additional housing being delivered.”

Birmingham is certainly a high demand area for housing, and this council has a genuine ambition to build, so we will be taking the Government up on its offer.