Press Release: Campaign Against the Birmingham CAZ

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) today launched its ABCAZ (Against Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone) campaign as a result of Birmingham City Council’s controversial and unpopular plan to impose a daily charge on non-compliant vehicles using roads inside the A4540 Middleway Ring Road from 1st January 2020.

Vehicles that fail to meet minimum emissions standards will be charged £8 per day if they are a car, taxi private hire vehicle or van. HGVs, coaches and buses will pay a daily charge of £50.

ABD Environment spokesman Paul Biggs, who lives in the West Midlands, said:

“The daily charges are unlikely to have a significant positive impact on air quality, but they could have a devastating financial effect on individuals and businesses that cannot afford to buy newer compliant vehicles. UK Air quality has improved significantly since 1970 with Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and Particulate (PM2.5) emissions down 70% and 78% respectively.

I urge Birmingham City Council to end its policy of deliberate congestion-causing measures, which increase emissions and create air pollution hot-spots.”

The Birmingham CAZ charge fails any reasonable cost-benefit analysis: The purely theoretical health and environmental benefits are £38 million over 10 years, at an overall negative cost of £122 million. Birmingham are also seeking an additional £69 million from the government to support the CAZ plans. Given the potential damage to the local economy, plus the fact that only 11.5% of people who responded to the CAZ consultation supported the plan, the ABD is calling for the CAZ to be scrapped.


Notes for Editors:

ABCAZ Website:

ABD Contact Page:

ABD Report: Air Quality and Vehicles – The Truth:

Air Pollution – A Crisis Created by Politicians?

The following article is by Paul Biggs, ABD Director and Environment Spokesperson. It first appeared in Local Transport Today, the magazine for local road traffic engineers.

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”  H L Mencken

Imaginary might be a little harsh, but exaggerated certainly isn’t. The latest hobgoblin is the air quality ‘crisis’, which is being used to justify more taxes on some drivers in the guise of clean air zones (CAZ) such as the ULEZ scheme in London. If the much-delayed carbon dioxide hobgoblin doesn’t get us, which we were previously using diesel to help slay, then NOx and particulates (dust) certainly will, according to the likes of London mayor Sadiq Kahn.

In fact, London is where the hobgoblin meets the ‘zombie’ statistic in the form of the mayor’s false 40,000 air pollution deaths claim, which has been shot down by the likes of respiratory physiologist Professor Tony Frew, a former member of the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) ( ). This Frankenstein’s monster of statistical constructs doesn’t refer to real people, but is derived from the estimated 340,000 life years lost by everyone in the UK as a result of an average ‘early death’ of around three days due to air pollution, all things being equal, which in reality they are not.

In fact, there are a number of factors that can influence life expectancy in positive or negative ways. These include the likes of genetics, wealth, lifestyle, diet, environment, medical advances, etc. It’s clear from the increased life expectancy from birth that we enjoy as a developed nation driven by carbon fuels that the balance of all factors is strongly positive in favour of increased longevity.

Professor Frew also points out that just because pollution levels have been made illegal doesn’t mean that they are dangerous. There’s a lack of publicity for the latest report from COMEAP where experts can’t agree on any link between NOx and mortality, and the latest Office for National Statistics data shows that the North-South divide for life expectancy is clearly wealth-related rather than related to air quality.

Dates of birth and death are ‘hard’ data compared to junk epidemiological guesswork. Making people richer, rather than poorer with unjustified taxes, is the best way to make their lives longer and happier.

As for asthma, it was identified by the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece and China BC – Before Cars. There are many potential attack triggers for people who are genetically predisposed to asthma and it’s a well-known fact that indoor air quality, where we spend 90 per cent of our time, can be many times worse than outdoors. Also, individuals with compromised respiratory systems are susceptible to spikes in poor air quality due to very specific combinations of weather conditions.

To mayor Khan’s credit, he has recognised the stupidity of wood-burning stoves, which can emit 18 times as much pollution as a modern diesel car and six times as much as a diesel truck. But there is no sign yet of any wood tax or recognition of the impact of the ‘prettiest pollutant’ known as fireworks. It’s ironic that London bus shelters carry posters side-by-side advertising the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) and firework displays. If there really was an air pollution emergency or crisis, wood-burning stoves and fireworks would be top of the banned list.

Regressive taxes, which is what CAZ charges are, target the less well-off who can’t afford new or newer vehicles. CAZ policies also fail to pass any cost-benefit analysis. Close to home for me personally, but not affecting my Euro 6 car, the planned Birmingham CAZ is projected to provide purely theoretical health and environmental benefits of £38m over ten years against a negative overall cost of £122m. This makes Birmingham’s EU-threatened fine of £60m for failing to tackle levels of air pollution declared illegal (by an EU we were supposed to be leaving) look like a bargain. Additionally, areas outside the Birmingham CAZ are likely to lose thousands of free parking spaces and the 6,000 free parking spaces within the zone could also face charges or restrictions.

UK vehicle emissions have declined significantly over the past 40 years against a background of increased vehicle usage. The fact that urban pollution ‘hot spots’ remain can to a large extent be blamed on deliberate congestion-causing policies, which have been designed to obstruct and slow traffic.

Banning all transport in London, for example, would only reduce particulate levels from the current average 14 micrograms per cubic metre to 12, the worldwide background level being 7 micrograms per cubic metre.

The potential air quality benefits of a ULEZ or CAZ will therefore be insignificant. We should instead be pleased with the significant improvements in air quality that have been achieved thanks to advances in vehicle technology and look forward to continued improvement from reduced vehicle emissions driven by technology.

Our tax- and restrictions-obsessed politicians should recognise the longer, happier lives that people in the UK are enjoying largely due to the economic benefits of carbon fuels. But we won’t be holding our breath waiting for that to happen!

Paul Biggs is environment spokesman for the Alliance of British Drivers. He is a biological sciences graduate and retired cancer researcher.

Stop Repeating The 40,000 Air Pollution Deaths Lie Says the ABD

Journalists and Politicians continue to mislead the public with discredited statistical constructs according to the Alliance of British Drivers (ABD)

In their 2008 Report, the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) estimated that every person in the UK loses an average of 3 days from their life expectancy due to air pollution (NOx and Particulates). This doesn’t sound very scary given the fact that average life expectancy in the UK has risen by years rather than days due to a number of factors including the wealth created by a fossil fuel driven economy. So, COMEAP added up the 3 days for everyone to arrive at a total figure of 340,000 life years lost. Then, using a quite complex equation, they constructed a statistic of ‘40,000 equivalent lives lost’ per year with the expectation that it would be misinterpreted and misused. In a radio interview, Respiratory Physiologist and former member of COMEAP, Professor Tony Frew described the 40,000 deaths as a ‘Zombie’ statistic that refuses to die (1).

ABD Environment Spokesman Paul Biggs, who is a Biological Sciences graduate and retired cancer researcher said: “Be clear, the claimed 40,000 deaths per year doesn’t refer to real people or real deaths. There are a number of factors that influence life expectancy in positive and negative ways including genetics, lifestyle, wealth, environment, medical advances etc., but the balance of all factors is strongly positive in favour of increased life expectancy. If there was an early deaths crisis in the UK, the government wouldn’t need to raise the retirement age, would they? The North-South divide for life expectancy in the UK evident in ONS data is clearly related to wealth rather than air pollution. Let’s end the ‘pollution scare’ that blights journalists and politicians”

The ABD demands that this irrational attack on the alleged air pollution from vehicles should cease.

Notes for Editors

(1) Prof Tony Frew interview:

Life Expectancy Data Says There Is No Air Pollution Health Crisis

There have been many scare stories published about how air pollution in London and other major cities is shortening lives. London Mayor Sadiq Khan certainly believes there is a major public health crisis that he needs to tackle by aggressive measures against vehicle owners. But data published by the Office of National Statistics simply contradicts these claims.

If such claims were true, one would expect to see shorter life spans for people living in those parts of the country where air pollution was known to be bad. For example some of the central London boroughs such as Camden, Westminster and Kensington & Fulham. But in fact the opposite is true. Residents of those boroughs have longer life expectancies than most of the rest of London, or the rest of the country. The Daily Mail has published an article that covers this subject in depth and even suggests that rather than retiring to the country, you can live longer if you move to central London – see link below.

Women born in the London Borough of Camden have the highest life expectancy overall at 86.5 years, with Kensington & Chelsea at 86.2 years. That’s longer than women who live in the outer London borough of Bromley at 85.3 years. Males live somewhat shorter lives but there is a similar advantage to living in the more polluted boroughs.

London as a whole has a life expectancy of 84.3 years for women and 80.5 years for men and expectancy has been rising until very recently – see ONS statistics link below. That compares with 84.0 years and 80.6 years for the wider south-east of the country. Both London and the wider south-east are much better than all other UK regions apart from the south-west. For example, in the north-east the figures are only 81.6 years for women and 77.9 years for men, perhaps negatively affected by working in former heavy industries in that region.

The Daily Mail article contains a useful interactive map so you can see what the figures are for where you live.

Now there are clearly other influences at work on life expectancy such as the quality of local healthcare and the wealth of the local population (wealthier people are known to live longer) but this data demonstrates that air pollution has no measurable impact on life expectancy at current levels even in the most polluted London boroughs. If it did one would expect to see this revealed in the data recently published by the ONS.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emission Zone is more about raising taxes on long-suffering vehicle owners than improving the life expectancy of the population.

Daily Mail article:

Office of National Statistics Life Expectancy Data:


ABD Press Release: The UK Government Should Follow French Lead and Ban Local Congestion Charges

The French government have swiftly reacted to recent riots and scrapped plans to introduce urban tolls or congestion charges as we know them (1).  It is not in the British driver’s nature to protest and riot but the ABD urges the UK government to follow the French lead and scrap the rights given to local authorities to intruduce local tolls and parking fees ad hoc with no regulation whatsoever.

ABD spokesman Nigel Humphries comments:    Councils all over Britain are looking at plans to punish and fine those they perceive as ‘polluters’ with no scientific evidence of a problem (2).  These are often set to trap even recent ‘economy cars’.  This will be a disastrous effect of ‘localism’ and is totally unjustified.  The London ULEZ is already an example of this.  It must be stamped out now or the British habit of rolling over and accepting all could change come election time. 




National Road Pricing a Step Closer, while NO₂ Impact in Doubt

The likely proliferation of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in many of the UK’s cities with many of them introducing charging systems for non-compliant vehicles will lead to the widespread adoption of camera systems for enforcement. That is how the London Congestion Charge and the expanded ULEZ which will cover most of London is being enforced. In other words, cameras everywhere.

One inconvenience for drivers would have been the complexity of paying the charges if local councils all operated their own systems. This is already a problem in London where there is no common registration and auto-payment system for the Congestion/ULEZ system and the Dartford Crossing on the M25. But the Government have already anticipated this according to a report in Local Transport Today who were told that the Government is setting up a central payment system to support the local authorities. It seems that local authorities will still have a role in enforcement however – that probably means they will be able to retain the profits they can make from fines which will of course make such systems even more attractive than they would otherwise be.

As the ABD said in our recent press release announcing the publication of the truth about air pollution and vehicles (see ), the prime objective [from attacks on allegedly polluting vehicles] often appears to be simply the desire to extract money from car drivers and other vehicle users. Local authorities will perceive this as a godsend to solve their budget problems.

A national system of collecting payment for local CAZs does of course mean that introducing a national road pricing system would be very easy – just need to put up lots of cameras. Indeed with most of the major conurbations covered by CAZ and charging systems, that’s what we will have in place and ready to use for wider purposes.

There is strong public resistance to road pricing. But you can see the way the wind is blowing on this subject. You’ll know when it happens when the current air pollution legal limits are met but the enforcement stays in place or is extended to lower emission vehicles. Anyone wish to take a bet on that?

NO₂ Impact in Doubt

One of the reasons why the Government has mandated CAZs for many cities is the failure to comply with current legal limits on NO₂ (Nitrogen Dioxide). That gas was judged to have a major impact on life expectancy from past scientific studies even though it is difficult to separate out the impact of NO₂ from other pollutants such as particulates. Now COMEAP, the Government sponsored authority on this subject, have published a report that questions the impact of NO₂ with committee members taking varied views on whether it has any impact on health at all. The committee settled on an estimate that reducing NO₂ by 1 μg/m3 would increase life expectancy by around 2 to 5 days, but some committee members fundamentally disagreed on even that calculation. See the COMEAP report here: for details.

It would seem that Government policy is being driven by dubious or uncertain science. But drivers on the roads of major cities will be facing big cost increases as a result.

Meanwhile Birmingham’s CAZ is shown as being poor value for money based on an economic appraisal by the local Council. Even taking into account the health and environmental benefits of £38 million over ten years, the costs imposed on drivers and vehicle owners results in overall negative costs of minus £122 million as a “net present value”. So just as with the extended ULEZ in London, we are seeing decisions being taken to pursue hopelessly unjustifiable attacks on air pollution.

Roger Lawson

Air Quality and Vehicles – The Truth

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has been very concerned of late with the misinformation that has been spread by the national media about the impact of air pollution from vehicles on the health of the population. We believe it is not a major health crisis but simply a major health scare fed to a gullible public by a few politicians and by journalists wanting a story.

The promotion of such stories has also led to Government over-reaction and a number of local councils proposing “Clean Air Zone” schemes aimed at restricting some vehicles from entering some roads, or charging them extra to do so in the name of reducing pollution. London is in the forefront of charging drivers using pollution as an excuse (e.g. from the ULEZ), but many other cities are planning similar schemes.

The prime objective often appears to be simply the desire to extract money from car drivers and other vehicle users.

The ABD has now published a full analysis of the issues that actually gives the truth about the claims made for air pollution, and rebuts many of the allegations. It can be downloaded from here:

Is there actually a public health crisis? The simple answer is NO. The evidence does not support such claims.

In reality air quality has been steadily improving and will continue to do so from technical improvements to vehicles. Meanwhile life expectancy has been increasing. There is no public health crisis!

Life expectancy might be improved slightly, for example by a few days if all air pollution was removed. But air pollution does not just come from vehicles but from many other sources of human activity such as heating, industrial processes, farming, building, cooking and domestic wood burners. Only about 50% comes from transport. The air outside is typically cleaner than in people’s own homes or in offices and that is where they spend most of the time.

Removing all air pollution would be economically very expensive and leave us with no transport (buses, trains, aeroplanes or cars) and also stop all deliveries of food and other goods. You would not want to live in such a world.

We give all the evidence on our claims above in the aforementioned paper.

But the ABD does accept that air pollution does need to be improved, particularly in certain locations, and we recognise public concern about it. However we argue that measures taken to improve matters should be proportionate and cost effective. There needs to be a proper cost/benefit analysis before imposing restrictions or charges.

There are many measures that can be used to reduce vehicle emissions without restricting motorists or imposing major extra costs on them.

There is certainly no need to panic over air pollution!



Fighting For Air – Another Piece of Air Pollution Propaganda from the BBC

Last night the BBC broadcast a programme on air pollution entitled Fighting for Air (BBC2 on 19/8/2018). It was presented by Dr. Xand van Tulleken in a populist and dramatic style.

He first did a simple test by “cleansing” his system by donning a chemical weapons suit followed by 3 hours of deliberately breathing in traffic fumes. He did blood pressure tests, analysed blood composition and checked for brain function before and after. This unscientific and uncontrolled test apparently showed a slight increase in blood pressure and blood clotting and possibly a very small change in cognitive function. No actual data was given. Bearing in mind that such tests as blood pressure can vary significantly from hour to hour, and the other tests likewise, this proves nothing at all. Note that there have been a number of scientific studies of a possible link between blood coagulation and air pollution but no clear conclusions about which pollutants are relevant and no specific link to heart disease or stroke risk identified. That did not stop Dr van Tulleken alleging such a link.

He then moved to Kings Heath High Street near Birmingham. This road exceeds national legal limits for NOX apparently by a small amount at some times. It is used by a large number of diesel buses (no hybrids or electrics), and by significant numbers of HGVs. Traffic is stop/start with high congestion because of traffic lights that are not linked and road side parking as people move in and out of the parking spaces.

Dr van Tulleken persuaded the local council to suspend the parking bays for a day (filled with bay trees instead) and to synchronise the traffic flights to provide a “green wave” and he also persuaded the bus company to offer free tickets. The result was the volume of traffic remained the same, but NO2 fell by 10%. It is not clear to what extent any adjustment was made for other factors such as weather changes although mention was made that the changes were measured against wider area changes.

Local shopkeepers were not happy particularly a butcher who had traded in the road for 50 years.

Comment: In summary all this programme showed is that smoothing traffic flows may significantly reduce some emissions from vehicles. We already knew that, for example from studies of speed hump schemes. Replacing road side parking by off-street parking is clearly something that councils should look at. I only wish that removing such parking be done in my local High Street (Chislehurst in the London Borough of Bromley) which has been proposed in the past but never progressed (there is already plenty of off-street parking). It would both reduce the air pollution and reduce congestion by improving the flow of traffic.

What the programme did not demonstrate was that air pollution is a major health hazard or a public health emergency as the Doctor disclaimed. Indeed the High Street Butcher demonstrated how much cleaner his shop is than it used to be suggesting particulate emissions were lower than a few years ago.

In conclusion, another disappointing and hysterical programme on air pollution rather than a truly balanced study of the issues.

Roger Lawson


Do Low Levels of Air Pollution Damage Your Heart?

Following the publication of a scientific paper analysing heart condition and the impact of air pollution, the national media immediately jumped to headlines such as “Low Levels of Air Pollution Linked to Changes in the Heart” as published by the BBC. Stories were typically illustrated with pictures of traffic jams, car exhaust and visible London air pollution. Calls to reduce legal maximum air pollution figures were added.

What does this scientific paper actually show? You can read it here: . It’s a paper by Nay Aung et al. But here are some comments on it:

  1. The paper was published in the journal “Circulation”, a small distribution specialist scientific journal, It is based on information from the UK Biobank which contains medical information on thousands of volunteers who have in this case had heart scans.
  2. The study correlated the information from 3,920 individuals to air pollution data (specifically NO2 and PM2.5) where they lived from 2005-2010.
  3. The study concluded that after adjusting for numerous other factors such as demographics (age, sex, ethnicity), anthropometrics (height, body mass), socioeconomic factors (income, employment, educational status), cardiac risk factors and physical activity there was a positive correlation between minor changes to left ventricle (LV) mass and other heart changes to air pollution levels where the volunteers were resident.
  4. Such changes to a heart are known to precede heart disease.
  5. The paper’s authors therefore concluded that “our findings add to the growing evidence of the damaging effects of ambient air pollution even in the setting of relatively low exposure levels”.

Are their conclusions justified beyond any doubt, and in particular are the popular media’s headlines justified? My conclusion is no. For example, like any epidemiological study it only provides a possible statistical association, not a direct cause. As Prof Kevin McConway commented on this paper (as reported by the BBC): “Heart disease is affected by a wide range of factors – smoking, drinking alcohol, diet, exercise, social position, and more. Suppose that people whose heart health is worse because of some of these factors are also more likely to live in places where air pollution is high. That could show up as a correlation between air pollution and heart disease, even if the pollution itself is having no direct effect on the heart”.

Another possible issue is that air pollution inside houses is known to often be many times worse than that in the most polluted streets. That pollution comes from cooking, new paint, fabrics, carpets, smoking by other residents, animal hair, etc. Lack of ventilation in houses and apartments can increase levels substantially so people who live close to noisy roads who never open their windows as a result may be particularly affected.

The report is open to attack on the detail of their statistical methods, and they also note that other similar studies did not provide the same evidence in all cases. In summary the overall evidence is quite weak. Neither does the report confirm that the minor changes noted to heart mass lead in this case to significant heart disease.

Their reference to “low exposure levels” may also be misleading because air pollution levels were not measured outside the volunteers’ houses or where they work. In addition the fact that the people studied were volunteers, i.e. were self-selected rather than being a randomised sample, could have biased the outcome even though lots of adjustments were made for possible confounding factors.

All the report really suggests is that more study should be undertaken of a possible effect. The conclusion drawn by some commentators that air pollution legal limits need to be reduced further is not substantiated by this report.

In the meantime, readers are advised not to live within a few metres of a busy road because it may be bad for your health. But that’s no surprise is it? Just living in a noisy environment is known to be very damaging to your health. High noise levels are correlated with cardiovascular disease according to the World Health Organisation. It seems it increases stress levels which has a negative impact on health.

What the Aung report does not do is justify even more aggressive attempts to reduce air pollution in cities such as London, where NOX and particulates are already falling after the mistaken support of more diesel vehicles by the Government. Road vehicles will soon no longer be a major contributor to air pollution in cities so more scaremongering of this ilk is not required.

The answer to the question posed in the headline of this article (“Do Low Levels of Air Pollution Damage Your Heart”) is simply that it is “Not proven”.

Stopping the School Run by Closing Roads

The “school run” is now a major cause of traffic congestion. It has got worse for three reasons: 1) more ownership of cars, 2) the ability of parents to apply to any school for admission of their children introduced a few years ago and 3) parents concern with the safety of their children if they walk or cycle to school.

Although schools do often have “catchment” areas that limit applications to a geographic area around the school if there are too many requests for places, in practice these are quite wide. For example, this map shows the catchment are for Coopers School in Chislehurst (London Borough of Bromley): . For those who know the area, that means that children come from as far afield as Mottingham, Swanley and Orpington, i.e. several miles distant. Walking would be impractical, and even cycling would be difficult due to steep hills, so only buses or car use (if they don’t live near a bus route) would be an option for many children. The result is daily congestion around that school during school term times, particularly as there are several other schools in the same area including some private schools whose catchment areas could be even larger.

How to solve the school run problem? Some local councils are now looking at road closures during school opening/closing times to deter the use of cars and encourage the children to walk or cycle. Road safety benefits are also suggested. The Borough of Croydon have already experimented with such a scheme for six months at 3 schools. The access restrictions were enforced by ANPR cameras with £130 fines for infringement. Local residents within the boundary could obtain a permit. Croydon council has now decided to make the scheme permanent despite many objections from residents (some living within the boundary).

The justification for the scheme was that it would reduce air pollution and encourage more healthy life styles but there was no evidence of the air pollution being a problem (no measures were taken), and it is exceedingly unlikely that excluding vehicles from a very small area for very limited times of the day would have any impact on air quality. No evidence on road safety benefits was provided. Such schemes just cause vehicle users to park further away outside the boundary causing wider parking problems, or they turn-up and park earlier. It causes major problems for delivery drivers, or other visitors to homes within the boundary as drivers are often not aware of the scheme.

The London Borough of Greenwich is also considering such a scheme for eight schools according to an article in the Newsshopper local paper and it suggests the access restriction would even be imposed by rising bollards.

Such schemes are spreading across the country. Solihull is another example of an experimental scheme which was put in without consultation. One local councillor said they did not consult first because they thought people would object!

Another area considering using such a scheme is Cambridge County Council where one councillor has put it forward. Again this is was primarily on spurious environmental grounds. The writer of this article spoke on BBC Radio Cambridge on the subject on 17/7/2018 and I suggested that such policies emanate mainly from car haters and that no evidence is provided on the environmental or other benefits.

There is another motivation for such schemes which is money (just like the closure of Bank Junction in the City of London which is generating enormous sums in fines). In Croydon, some 2,000 fines were issued in six months, which is likely to generate hundreds of thousands of pounds per year of additional income to the council.

The school run and the congestion it causes is of major concern to many people but this writer does not support road closures of this nature. They just obstruct and corrupt the road network.

In Croydon local activist Peter Morgan claims the council have acted illegally by not taking notice of objections and failing to meet their obligations under the Traffic Management Act. He is asking the Secretary of State to block the councils move.

The Alliance of British Drivers opposes road closure schemes of all kinds on the grounds that they create major inconvenience for many people, rarely provide any claimed benefits and particularly so when they are used as money making schemes by councils to exploit unwary motorists.

But if you have other solutions to the congestion caused by school run drivers, that are more practical and less unreasonable, then please let us know.

Roger Lawson