The Environment's Secretary's campus tour was part of a visit to the region which came as the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) was given almost £1 million to tackle air pollution.
Improving air quality is a key part of the WMCA’s long-term commitment to the environment, as outlined in its five-year Natural Environment Plan, launched in 2021, which sets out the actions the WMCA will take with its partners to enhance biodiversity, protect endangered species, and improve access to green spaces and waterways.
DEFRA has recognised that commitment by providing funding that will see the WMCA lead the most detailed monitoring yet of tiny particles in the air, known as PM2.5 and PM10, from things like wood-burners, factories and tyre dust.
The WMCA is a project partner in the University’s WM-Air project, which uses data produced by the Supersite to inform local air quality policies. WM-Air will be involved in the DEFRA-funded project through supporting the particulate monitoring.
Microscopic particulates are important because they can cause illnesses like asthma, coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer, and in the West Midlands it is estimated that they are responsible for 1,400 premature deaths every year.
Unlike emissions from vehicles, which are reducing, awareness of particulates is low and it is projected that levels will remain flat without positive action to reduce them.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA chair, accompanied the Secretary of State on a tour of the University of Birmingham’s Air Quality Research Supersite to see the work already taking place to clean up the region’s air.
We are using insights from the Birmingham Air Quality Supersite to inform clean air actions to directly improve health to millions of people across the region.Professor William Bloss, WM-Air Lead Investigator
The Mayor said: “Significant action is already underway here in the West Midlands to improve the quality of the air we breathe. It was great to showcase our expertise and depth of commitment to the Secretary of State and it’s fantastic to see this recognised with £1 million of funding.
“As we seek to tackle the climate emergency and address health inequalities right across our region, Government will continue to be a vital partner on this in the months and years ahead.”
Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “We have made great strides in tackling air pollution nationally since 2010 but we must go further. The £1 million for the West Midlands through our Air Quality Grants scheme will directly support the monitoring of harmful emissions – and is one of the many innovative projects across the country receiving a share of almost £11 million this year.
“I am pleased to be continuing our work with the West Midlands Combined Authority on this important issue, as part of this government’s commitment to clean up our air for future generations.”
As part of its environment programme, the WMCA is developing a regional air quality framework, working with its seven constituent council members to understand the measures that could operate well ‘at scale’ to reduce the impact of poor quality air.
The monitoring of PM2.5 and PM10 particulates will produce real-time data that will enable the WMCA to help residents themselves understand the need for action to address poor air quality and what that action might involve.
Cllr Ian Courts, WMCA portfolio holder for energy and environment, and leader of Solihull Council, said: “Air pollution remains one of the top environmental risks to human health in the UK. It’s a real boost to the region’s future health and prosperity to receive this £1m funding boost from Government. Whilst we’re making great progress in the West Midlands integrating cutting edge electric vehicles into our transport system, this funding will allow us to better understand and tackle the microscopic particulates associated with tyre wear and brake discs for example.
“By monitoring the particulates in real time, we can be reactive and informed in our response to dealing with areas of poor air quality. Ultimately, it will help us in our aim to reduce the health inequalities linked to air pollution across the region.”
William Bloss, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Birmingham, said: “Through WM-Air and the Birmingham Air Quality Supersite we are able to identify different pollution sources, ranging from road traffic to woodsmoke, and understand how the air we breathe is changing. We are using this insight to inform clean air actions to directly improve health to millions of people across the region.”
The West Midlands’ target of being a net zero region within the next two years will also bring major improvements to residents’ quality of life and the economy and is set out in the #WM2041 plan.