FIVE hundred people a year are dying prematurely because of illegal levels of pollution in Sheffield, a shock new report reveals.
Sheffield Council has drawn up an Air Quality Action Plan to tackle the problem - which could include a Low Emission Zone banning the most polluting vehicles from the city centre.
The pollution - caused mainly by vehicle exhaust fumes - is costing the NHS in Sheffield £160 million a year in treatment.
Sheffield is one of 12 UK cities given until 2015 to comply with pollution rules or face financial penalties which could total £300 million nationwide.
Under proposals set to be approved by the council’s cabinet on Wednesday, officials are also proposing to ask for a speed restriction on the M1 where it runs through the urban area near Tinsley.
Sheffield Council executive director Simon Green said: “Nitrogen dioxide levels are so high in some areas that without major intervention, the EU objectives are unlikely to be achieved until 2020.
“These areas are adjacent to arterial routes into the city where there are large numbers of heavy diesel vehicles.”
Parts of the city centre suffering high pollution are Fitzalan Square and Haymarket, where there are large numbers of queuing buses and taxis.
Mr Green said air quality has improved in many areas of Sheffield but ‘within the busy urban centre it has not improved with some places seeing air quality worsening’.
As well as a ban on the dirtiest vehicles commercial operators and the public will be urged to switch to cleaner fuels for their vehicles.
There will also be further efforts to promote car sharing and public transport.
Reducing the speed limit on the M1 would require Government approval - but the council says it would cost little because overhead gantries and speed cameras are already to be installed as part of plans to use the hard shoulder as a fourth lane.
But community representatives in Darnall and Tinsley, which suffer worst from the problem, fear pollution could worsen with new developments.
Neil parry, of Sheffield East End Quality of Life Initiative, said: “Community groups across the city welcome Sheffield’s new Air Quality Action Plan but does it have the teeth to meet the challenge?
“Soon IKEA will be putting a planning application to build a store. Anybody who has visited the Leeds or Nottingham stores will know how much traffic that generates.”
Len Hadfield, of Ecclesall and who represented the Institute of Advanced Motorists on the Sheffield Motorists’ Forum, said: “It’s difficult to know how a low emission zone would be enforced.
“But I think a speed limit on the M1 would make a difference and I wouldn’t be against it.
“The council could also remove some speed humps, which cause pollution by drivers slowing down then speeding up, and increase the number of park-and-ride sites.”
Sheffield Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said pressure should be put on bus operators to replace older vehicles with modern, cleaner buses.
He also said constituents had suggested the council should look at making roads run more smoothly, by measures such as reducing the number of traffic lights.
“We need sensible measures which encourage greener transport but without penalising motorists,” Mr Clegg said.
Mr Green was confident the new plan - created after a previous version was rejected for not going far enough - would work.
He said: “Implementation of this revised Air Quality Action Plan seeks to reduce air pollution in Sheffield to achieve national targets and EU limit values by 2015. This will provide a better quality of life for all.”