The regulations surrounding Birmingham's proposed Clean Air Zone should be relaxed so that fewer people need to pay a charge, according to the mayor.
In a letter to the regional press, Mayor Andy Street said that, while he backed the council's 'broad approach' to the issue, he had heard from many concerned residents asking how they will be affected.
He has suggested that some of the proposed regulations be relaxed, adding that the charges should 'be as sympathetic as possible to the lives of residents'.
"The West Midlands is facing a public health crisis from air pollution, causing an estimated 1,600 premature deaths a year, and affecting people’s health and wellbeing across the region," he said.
"We have a duty to work together for a cleaner, greener and healthier West Midlands.
"Wherever there is traffic congestion, drivers and pedestrians breathe in dirty air, on the motorway network and our main roads. This is a problem for the whole region that we must work together to solve.
"Birmingham City Council has recognised this and is committed to tackling air pollution through their Clean Air Zone proposals. In the circumstances, and given the serious nature of this problem, I strongly believe their broad direction is the right one.
"However, we must make sure that the proposals being submitted to Government meet the needs of residents and businesses in the city.
"I have heard from many people with worries about how they will be affected, and the city council has received more responses to these plans than to any previous consultation. This is why I hope the city council will review their proposals to take some of these concerns into account.
"For example, the city council should consider excluding more of the less-polluting, newer diesel and petrol cars from charges. At the same time, I would like them to ensure that drivers of vans, private hire cars and taxis have sufficient financial support to upgrade their vehicles before any charging begins.
"I believe the council should also make a final review of the geography and 24/7 operation of the Clean Air Zone and think very carefully when setting the final prices to be as sympathetic as possible to the lives of residents and the commercial success of businesses in and around the city centre."
The letter comes after Birmingham's cabinet approved a plan for a clean air zone that charges high polluting vehicles.
The decision has been heavily criticised by many, though, for simply acting as a 'sticking plaster' over the issue of pollution in Birmingham.
Under the proposed scheme high polluting cars, lorries and buses will be charged to enter the city centre within the A4540 middle ring road.
While final plans are still being worked out, the cabinet member for transport announced back in July that the proposed daily charges for non-complaint vehicles could be:
- Buses and coaches £50 - £100
- Lorries / HGVs £50 - £100
- Taxis and private hire cars £6 - £12.50
- Private cars £6 - £10
Cars which meet the Euro 4 emissions standard for petrol and Euro 6 standard for diesel will not pay the charge.
In general they are petrol cars made since 2006 and diesel cars made since 2015.
The council has defended the decision to introduce the charges, stating that introduction of a clean air zone was a government-led directive.
But opposition councillors say that, far from solving the issue of pollution, the council's proposals will simply increase pollution in those areas where the charge does not apply, with users of the A38 Expressway having to bypass the city centre to avoid a charge.
And the Mayor believes it is important that, instead of just displacing the issue, the council come up with a long-term solution to the problem.
He called for further government investment to help deal with the issue.
"For other parts of Birmingham and the wider West Midlands, it is imperative that the Clean Air Zone doesn’t simply displace the congestion and pollution. We need a permanent, sustainable, long-term solution.
"Government has already made available funding for a number of areas – not least in helping National Express continue to upgrade their buses to meet low-emissions standards – but more Government investment is needed.
"I recognise the role I have to play in this process. I stand ready to work with Birmingham and other local authorities, lobby Government for support, and drive forward our public transport schemes to deliver what we all want, cleaner air for our people.
"In the meantime, I hope the city council will address the concerns I have outlined and the message the public has clearly articulated in response to the consultation.
"Our shared goal is clean air for all in the West Midlands, and I will work with everyone in the region to make this a reality."