Bromsgrove could become the first place in the UK outside London to create "no go" zones for polluting vehicles.

Councillors said urgent action was needed to cut emissions from heavy traffic after research showed the number of asthma sufferers in parts of the district was as much as 50 per cent higher than the county average.

And a local authority taskforce looking into the problem says the best solution could be to charge high-polluting heavy goods vehicles which use the area.

In one part of Bromsgrove - Lickey End, near Junction 1 of the M42 - levels of the poisonous Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) gas were so high that EU health and safety laws forced the district council to take immediate action. Some areas of Lickey End were found to have as much as 58mg/m3 of NO2, compared with an EU-mandated average safety level of 40mg/m3. The council had to declare it an Air Quality Management Area and make a plan outlining ways to reduce emission levels.

Doctors at three practices in traffic-heavy Rubery also expressed worries about the number of patients on their books with asthma and respiratory diseases.

About 1,600 people in Rubery - 10 per cent of of the population of the town - suffer from asthma or a respiratory disease, compared with an average of just six per cent in the rest of the county.

District council Labour leader Peter McDonald chaired the council's air quality taskforce which proposed the Low Emission Zones (LEZs).

He said: "We were surprised at the extent of the problem. We now have the evidence that people's health is at risk from poor air quality and we cannot ignore it.

"The study came about because Bromsgrove is very close to motorways and we were concerned about what it was doing to the area. There was a link between where there was high pollution and where there were lots of respiratory problems like asthma. We noticed abroad, in Scandinavian countries, they had had quite a lot of success with LEZs, and it was only after we started talking about it that we found out Ken Livingstone is planning to bring in something similar in London in February."

The plan will involve vehicles considered high polluters paying a charge for a yearly permit to travel within the zones, which are provisionally planned for parts of Rubery, Bromsgrove town centre and Hagley.

Vehicles which could be charged under the scheme include lorries, buses, coaches, large vans and mini-buses, but not cars. Which vehicles which come under the scheme will be decided based on European standardised categories for engine size and emission levels, and the scheme will largely target diesel engines. The LEZ will be self-financing and enforced by spot checks.

The plans will go to the district council's cabinet on January 9, and Coun McDonald said he was very hopeful they would be approved.

Robert Freeman, who runs a telecommunications business from his home in Lickey End, said: "Personally I'd welcome it, because I have to live here.

"There's really heavy traffic from the motorway, which throws up a lot of dust, the air quality isn't very good, and it seems to be getting worse. I suppose for businesses who have to get things delivered it might not be very good, but from my point of view it's great news."

The Freight Transport Association said it welcomed measures to reduce air pollution, but was wary about the impact of legislation on their business.

In a response to the announcement of the London LEZ, it said: "The FTA feels very strongly that the freight industry is being targeted as the biggest polluter whilst other major sources of particulates, specifically cars, are missing from the scheme."
 tom_scotney@mrn.co.uk