The current coronavirus crisis has pushed a number of cities to delay the implementation of anti-pollution policies that were due later this year. While the Ultra Low Emission Zone in London has been suspended indefinitely, Clean Air Zones (CAZ) in Birmingham and Leeds, the CAZ consultation in Manchester and the Zero-Emission Zone in Oxford will now not be rolled out before 2021 or later.
National and local governments must rightly concentrate all their efforts in the current Covid-19 crisis, mitigate its devastating impact on local and national economies, and not add an additional strain on people and businesses’ finances. But is such a lengthy delay to a policy of huge importance to environmental and public health reasonable?
It could be argued that air quality has dropped down the list of important matters simply because air pollution does not seem to blight our cities anymore. As a result of the current lockdown, there are up to 80% fewer car journeys, and air pollution levels (especially NO2) in cities around the world have dropped. In London, average air pollution levels have fallen at their lowest level since recording was implemented in 2000, according to the London Air Quality Network. Similar results have been observed in Glasgow, Oxford, Bristol and Luton, to name a few.