Skip to content

What Clean Air Zones can teach all who plan to engage communities on Climate change issues

The Green Alliance has just published an excellent paper called The case for clean air zones.

It comes at a time when Birmingham, our second city, is preparing to introduce its Clean Air Zone (CAZ) and many other cities are considering the prospect. We have not exactly been quick off the blocks. Such zones already exist in 250 European cities, but in the UK, there has been serious opposition, discussed thoroughly in the Green Alliance paper.

The science seems in little doubt. But there are many issues that make the designation of a CAZ far from straightforward. Interestingly, one of them is the challenge of consulting local communities.

In the words of the Green Alliance report: –

The reason many schemes fail is due to poor local consultation. Local authorities must set a clear overarching vision for their area and work in partnership with people and businesses on the best ways to realise it in their local context.

It seems that many citizens see a CAZ as a form of ‘stealth tax’, and as with recent opposition to Local Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), having the potential for uncomfortable disputes between local residents and interest groups. Advocates of significant behaviour change need to take note!

Those of us with an interest in public engagement and consultation consistently argue that new measures that affect people’s lives should always proceed only after effective and meaningful dialogue with those affected. But, to campaigners in a hurry, this can often appear as creating obstacles in their way. Clean Air supporters may feel hugely frustrated if the Green Alliance diagnosis is correct, and if poor quality consultation is one of the culprits.

There is only one solution. The requirement to consult will not be dropped. Legal and political considerations make that impossible … as well as undesirable. The only fix is to engage and consult better. In most cases, it means preparing the ground so that proposals and options give people some genuine choices and realistic mitigations for the inevitable downsides of radical change.

For clean air zones, the Green Alliance paper skilfully argues that the key is not to pursue air quality improvements in isolation from the wider question of how the entire local transport system should evolve. It means tackling difficult issues such as the re-allocation of road space, the prioritisation of active travel options and the promotion of public transport. Waiting till consultees point out the problems and demand mitigation measures is a poor way to proceed. Decision-makers get cold feet, and in the meantime, opponents to the proposals have built up a head of steam – often accompanied by indignant anger.

Best practice can be seen elsewhere. The NHS, for example, has had to learn the hard way. No longer does it (normally) propose closing an Accident & Emergency unit and oblige residents to travel further for treatment on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. It tries to devise mitigations and alternatives so that a consultation can take them into account. The principle is the same. Prepare more thoroughly – and let consultees consider how effective proposed mitigations will be rather than just demand that there should be some

In the coming months and years, any serious attempt to meet our climate change targets will oblige Governments – at all levels – to face up to difficult trade-offs and carry public opinion with them. Air Quality is a useful harbinger of what’s to come. Every local authority; every public service; every Government department needs to study what works – and what doesn’t. For that reason, the Institute intends to focus on the practical steps that need to be taken.

Join us next week on Thursday 13th May as we start with a Roundtable on Air Quality. This is a joint event with BDB-Pitmans, who advise many public bodies on navigating the legal and regulatory framework that govern Clean Air Zones and other transport and infrastructure changes. Speakers include Philippa Borrowman, who wrote The case for Clean Air zones, and Stephen Arnold who is responsible for the Birmingham CAZ which goes live in June.

It will be relevant to anyone seeking to engage with local communities on significant changes.

Full details of the Agenda are as follows:

  • Welcome & Introductions – Rhion Jones, the Consultation Institute
  • The case for clean air zones – Philippa Borrowman, Green Alliance
  • The legal and regulatory context – Laura Thornton, BDB-Pitmans
  • The challenges of implementation – Stephen Arnold, Birmingham City Council
  • Best Practice engagement and consultation – Davy Jones, Consultation Institute Felloe
  • Facilitated discussion
  • Conclusions

Click here to register for this topical Roundtable event.

About the Author

Rhion Jones is considered a leading authority on Public Engagement and Consultation. A founding Director of the Consultation Institute, he is co-author of “The Art of Consultation” (2009) and “The Politics of Consultation” (2018). He has delivered over 500 training courses and Masterclasses and is a prolific writer on the subject, having written over 350 different Topic papers and over 50 full Briefing Papers for the Institute. Since 2003 over 15,000 person-days of training based on courses he invented have been delivered. Rhion is in demand as an entertaining Keynote Speaker and Special Adviser, particularly on the Law of Consultation, and its implications for Government and other Public Bodies. In 2017, he was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

Read more about Rhion

Scroll To Top