It is killing hundreds of people in Sheffield every year, with annual health costs of £160 million.
But tackling the city’s unsafe levels of deadly air pollution effectively means some tough calls for decision makers in Sheffield.
The city was named earlier this year by the World Health Organisation as being among nine urban areas in the UK which are breaching safe levels of air quality.
Coun Jack Scott, Sheffield Council cabinet member for environment, said the authority is doing all it can to tackle the problem – but added changes in people’s behaviour are needed to change the city’s air quality problems.
It comes as the issue of air pollution plays a part in two major planning decisions.
Campaigners against the potential new Ikea in Sheffield – councillors are due to make a decision on the store today – have warned its creation could add to the already ‘atrocious’ air quality in Tinsley, where it is planned the new site would be based.
And those fighting against the building of a new motorway service station on 20 acres of ancient woodland at Smithy Wood near Chapeltown have listed the potential for the site to further damage air quality in South Yorkshire as one of their reasons for objection.
Neil Parry, from the East End Quality of Life Initiative, said air pollution has serious health consequences for people exposed to it.
“It is not just about the deaths, it is the ill health that is caused,” he said.
“This needs to be taken seriously and it is good the WHO is saying these things. It increases pressure to take some action.”
He said people need to be encouraged to use vehicles less and to change their behaviour.
Coun Scott said funding has been secured for a public information campaign that will start this autumn and encourage people to use cars less in a bid to reduce air pollution levels.
The council published an Air Quality Action Plan last year setting out a range of initiatives to tackle the issue.
It said poor air quality is causing an estimated 500 premature deaths a year in Sheffield, with annual health costs of around £160 million.
The report added poor air quality results in increased admissions to hospitals.
The action plan includes proposals such as controlling industrial emissions, mitigating the impact of the M1 by pushing for a speed limit reduction along the road as it passes by Sheffield, and looking into the possibility of introducing a city centre ‘Low Emission Zone’ similar to one operating in London.
A zone was introduced in London in 2008 and charges drivers in an attempt to reduce the number of polluting vehicles on the road.
The council’s air quality action plan suggested a feasibility study should be carried out into whether the policy would work in Sheffield.
Coun Scott said he believes the Government is ‘listening’ on reducing speed limits on the M1, with the council calling for vehicles to be limited to 50mph.
A Highways Agency consultation on reducing the limit to 60mph between junction 28 at Mansfield and junction 35a at Sheffield and Rotherham between 7am and 7pm each day finished in March, with a decision expected later this year.
Coun Scott said buses in the city are among the ‘cleanest and most efficient in the country’.
But he added more needs to be done about encouraging the use of more environmentally-friendly taxis and HGVs.
He said: “Five hundred people a year are dying in Sheffield and we need to take decisive action. The WHO report doesn’t necessarily tell us anything we didn’t know before.
“We are leading the way for cities on this stuff. We know we have got to take this seriously but people need to play their part too.
“If people can use bikes, or for just one journey out of 10 walk instead of using the car, that would have a massive impact in terms of air quality.
“There is no magic lever in the Town Hall. We will be bold and take strong action, but we need people to work with us.
“Our view is that we are on borrowed time in terms of really positive action on this.”
‘Potential new Ikea may lead to more premature deaths’
Sheffield Council’s director of public health has warned the potential new Ikea store could lead to more premature deaths in Sheffield through increased air pollution.
Dr Jeremy Wight said the store will cause ‘negative health effects’ because of the impact on air quality through extra car journeys.
A report to today’s planning meeting, which has recommended the scheme for approval, noted Dr Wight has expressed concerns about the potential for the store to bring about a ‘small number’ of additional deaths from diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
It said: “The actual worsening of air quality is, in proportional terms, small, but it is a small proportional deterioration of air quality that is already very bad.
“It is the view of the council’s director of public health that the public health harm caused by the slight worsening of already poor air quality, while not precisely quantifiable, will comprise additional cases of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and will lead to a small number of additional premature deaths.”
And an environmental campaigner wrote to the founder of Ikea asking him to scrap the company’s plans for the store.
Neil Parry, from the East End Quality of Life Initiative, wrote to Ikea founder Ingvar Kampard calling for the company to withdraw its plans because of concerns about its potential impact on already poor air quality levels in Tinsley.
He said: “People there have much worse health than in other areas of Sheffield.
“One of the reasons is that the traffic pollution of the air is atrocious – in fact it is at illegal levels, much beyond the limits set by the European Union.
“An Ikea store there is going to make matters even worse with all the traffic it will attract.”
Ikea says the store would create 700 jobs and it will spend £400,000 on environmental schemes such as planting new trees and green bus technology.
Councillors are meeting at 10am today to discuss the Ikea application.
See www.thestar.co.uk, @sheffieldstar and www.facebook.com/sheffieldstar for the decision.
Fight to stop new Motorway service station on ancient woodland
Those fighting against plans to build a new motorway service station on 20 acres of ancient woodland at Smithy Wood near Chapeltown have listed as one of their reasons for objection the potential for the site to further damage air quality in South Yorkshire.
MP Angela Smith, who represents Penistone and Stocksbridge, is among hundreds of objectors campaigning against plans for a new M1 service station to be built at Smithy Wood.
She said one of her key objections is the potential for the site to further increase air pollution problems. “The area is also within the boundaries of an Air Quality Management Area, an area where because of the poor quality of the air it is proposed to reduce the speed limit on the M1,” she said.
“The extra traffic that would be drawn in by this development would add substantially to decreases in air quality and this I feel is totally unacceptable.”
In their environmental assessment, developers Extra Motorway Service Area say traffic generated by the proposed development may have a ‘slightly adverse’ impact on air quality, but mitigation strategies will be put in place to reduce potential problems.