Archives for posts with tag: Air pollution

Connectivity, though identified as such in the Midlands Connect strategy report,  is not the greatest transport problem

The Midlands Connect Partnership and the Department for Transport have developed a transport strategy that identifies the major infrastructure projects needed to improve the connectivity of the region’s key locations and drive economic growth, but it omits any reference to waterway passenger and freight potential. 

Its ‘Final Strategy’ paper (left, March) has no canal or waterway references, 12 to congestion and only one to air pollution.

Sir John Peace, the current Chair of Standard Chartered plc and Burberry Group plc, has been appointed as Chair of the Midlands Engine and will continue to chair Midlands Connect. As his experience is in financial services and retailing, he needs to draw on the wealth of experience in organisations such as Freight for London, the Commercial Boat Operators Association (CBOA) and the Canals and River Trust (CRT). Though employment opportunities abound in the inland waterway transport sectors in India, Uganda, South Sudan and continental Europe, according to online advertisements, Midlands Connect appears to be unaware of the transport potential of waterways. 

Jonathan Guthrie, Financial Times Enterprise Editor, reported years ago that canals could regain their role as conduits for trade because of gridlock on the motorways according to a new study for West Midlands councils, the Highways Agency and British Waterways, which found “considerable potential for the reintroduction of freight on the canals”. What has changed?

He added that the findings will resonate with any driver who has ever watched narrowboats putter past on nearby canals while stuck on a motorway. A canal freight shuttle service between the Black Country and Birmingham could move 175,000 tonnes annually and save 61,750 urban lorry miles, the study found. All valid points today. 

The CRT report, Transport energy, planning for inland waterways freight, records evidence given to the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Rural Affairs Committee (ETRAC) 38 suggesting that there is significant traffic potential. One barge company claimed that, “without trying at all”, there was half a million tonnes of freight that could be transferred from road transport and that the Aire & Calder Navigation could quite easily take 2,000 lorries a day off local roads.

To create a more comprehensive strategy, Sir John Peace and the partnership could co-opt a number of people with the right expertise. One of many is Tim West of Robert Wynn and Sons Ltd. He was consulted about low bridges restricting the ability of the inland waterways to accommodate some cargo on certain stretches and replied that his firm has been able to carry large abnormal loads to locations such as Worcester, Leeds, Nottingham, Rotherham, York, Preston and Manchester. The Inland Navigator (above) sailed down the River Ouse carrying a transformer to Drax power station, avoiding a possible 15 mile tailback on the motorways.

London’s River Bus Express (above) run by Transport for London offers the public a regular service which is described in detail here – a model for other towns and cities. The city is also moving large amounts of water and construction materials by water.

The CRT report points out that it is Government policy to promote alternatives to road transport for both passenger and freight movements, partly to reduce congestion and partly to reduce the environmental impact of road transport.  

Inland waterways have the potential to assist in both these objectives.






An emboldened Conservative government would indeed be good news for ‘Strong and Stable’ funeral directors, as:

  • air pollution continues unabated,
  • the health service deteriorates,
  • the incidence of adult depression and mental illness in children grows apace
  • ‘moral fibre’ rots: latest indication:10,000 Britons signed up to one of the world’s largest paedophile internet networks
  • and others are debt-ridden due to the daily onslaught of consumerist advertising,
  • sedated by inane, often BBC-provided TV quiz shows
  • or led astray by a violent TV/online diet.

Tom Young says May’s ‘Strong and Stable Government’: (is) More Than a Tagline – indeed it is and a Conservative stabilisation unit would, in future, see an increasingly  heavy workload.

New claimants with a disability have just been hit by a £30 a week cut in benefits to save the government £1bn over four years even though their living costs are higher because of the need for assisted travel, hospital appointments, extra heating, etc., and they are likely to take far longer to find a job.

A Hall Green friend who intends to vote Labour writes of his issue with the Labour message: “it remains too rooted in struggle and injustice, and not enough in giving people a reason to vote if they don’t suffer or struggle”.

But many well-placed voters are deeply concerned when seeing others in difficulties. And a far larger swathe of the population is struggling than he seems to think:

  • graduates in formerly secure jobs are being made redundant,
  • people in their twenties and twenties now see no option but to live with their parents,
  • many people are suffering from urban air pollution and miserable traffic congestion,
  • education cuts will affect their children as the Public Accounts Committee has warned,
  • in some areas people in need of healthcare are affected by a declining NHS service.
  • mental illness, no doubt in part due to one of more of these factors, is rising rapidly in both children and adults.

Professor Prem Sikka sees the positive, constructive Labour message; U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn plans:

  • to raise corporation tax by more than a third over the next three years and plough the £6bn proceeds into schools and universities,
  • restore maintenance grants for the poorest students,
  • abolish university tuition fees
  • guarantee that five, six and seven-year olds will not be taught in classes of more than 30.
  • creating a National Education Service to equip Britain’s workers for the post-Brexit economy,
  • extend free adult education to allow workers to upgrade their skills,
  • raise the cap on NHS wages, and
  • to build up to a million new homes, many of them council houses.

If ‘the sums don’t add up’, a standard Conservative knee-jerk reaction:

Withdraw subsidies from fossil fuel & nuclear companies and arms exporters, jettison HS2 and redirect investment to improving rail and waterway transport links.

Sikka rightly ends: People are our biggest asset and only they can build a nation. We have a choice: Tax cuts for the rich or investment in our future to enable people to realise their potential.






Hannah Green’s Chamberlain Files April Fool article boomerangs. Informed readers would indeed welcome the news that National Express has launched a West Midlands canal bus relieving congestion – following the precedent set by other cities.

London’s River Bus Express (below) run by Transport for London offers the public a regular service which is described in detail here – a model for other towns and cities.

In Leeds, a pioneering free water taxi scheme has been made permanent. The boats, which can carry up to 11 passengers, are being paid for by Allied London, the company that owns Leeds Dock – formerly Clarence Dock. Read more here.

The Amsterdam-style service – trialled at the recent Leeds Waterfront Festival – takes passengers from Leeds Dock to Granary Wharf and back. While currently operating on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only, the taxis could become a daily fixture running 7am-7pm.Simon Tipple, who drives one of the boats, which take about seven minutes to cover the route, said: “The south entrance to the railway station is opening soon. Once that happens you’ll be able to get straight off the train and onto the water taxi. It’s quicker than walking, it’s quicker than being in the car. There’s a lot of flats, a lot of commuters in the dock area.”

“We know our roadways are getting more and more congested, and more people are seeking alternative forms of transport”, said the owner Steven Cadwell.

The Manchester Evening News reports that on November 7th a water taxi service was launched, connecting Manchester city centre with Sale and Old Trafford along the Bridgewater Canal. Two Waxi boats – sadly built in Shanghai not Manchester – take passengers from Dukes 92 in Castlefield to the Trafford Centre, morning and evening, Mondays to Fridays –the first water taxi service in operation in Greater Manchester. More boats will be acquired as the business develops.

Waxi was founded by entrepreneur Steven Cadwell (above) who originally wanted a service that ran from the city centre to MediaCityUK, but had to look at other options because of the construction of the Ordsall Chord which is due to be completed in 2017. Cadwell said:

“It’s something that will appeal to a lot of people who want a different way to travel to work or to football matches. We know our roadways are getting more and more congested, and more people are seeking alternative forms of transport”. 

Birminghams canals are a neglected and underused resource; clean waterway transport should be integrated into plans for canalside residential, retail and office developments. Some have suggested water taxis sailing from the Icknield Port development into the city centre.

One precedent is the dedicated waterbus service (above, pink) operated by Sherborne Wharf Heritage Narrow Boats, stopping at Brindleyplace, King Edwards Wharf, Gas Street Basin and The Mailbox. But like most waterway vessels currently used, though it is more fuel-efficient and potentially takes traffic of congested roads, it produces some noise and air pollution.

We would recommend the hydrogen fuelled model (above) developed as part of the Protium Project at the University of Birmingham.

David Lowe (CBOA) adds: there are passenger boats in Glasgow, on Loch Lomond, and in Spalding and on the Lancaster canal.

Ruth Bloomfield in the Times gives the following grounds for optimism:

  • A report by Knight Frank states that it has more start-ups than any other regional city in Britain,
  • and attracts more foreign direct investment projects than any other English region.
  • It also has more Ofsted “outstanding” schools per pupil than any other regional city
  • and more restaurants with Michelin stars than anywhere outside London.
  • There is highly priced housing in Edgbaston and Harborne.
  • Investment opportunities: Ladywood constituency saw prices rise by 11% in 2014
  • And house prices across the Selly Oak constituency, rose by 8% cent last year, to an average of £180,000.
  • A ‘landmark’ library been built.
  • New Street railway station has been redeveloped.
  • There are 8,000 acres of open spaces,
  • The city was recently raked 53rd in the Mercer Quality of Living rankings, higher than Rome, Hong Kong and Philadelphia.
  • Birmingham is now attracting international companies, such as HSBC, American architecture giant Gensler and the law firm Hogan Lovells.

After outlining future large city centre construction projects she ends: “The cherry on the top of this rather considerable cake is HS2, which will, in 2026, cut travel times from Birmingham to London to 49 minutes”.

city canal, warehousesThe best part of the article: one shot of the fine industrial architecture at the side of one of the canals winding through the city centre and outer suburbs. Did Ms Bloomfield choose it?.

Can readers list significant points not mentioned which the new administration will have to address – such as air pollution?

Jim and lion

In Birmingham on Saturday it was remarkable to see a large room full of solid citizens opting to remain with the EU – not one dissenting voice.

air pollution brumThey were people with a concern for the cleanliness of our air, water and the health of people and the natural world, who see the ‘dirty man of Europe’ being compelled to take action (see Craig Bennett) – though not enough has been done, as many thousands still die prematurely from conditions caused or exacerbated by air-pollution.

The other great constituency in favour of remaining in the EU should be those whose working conditions have been safeguarded and even improved by EU legislation.

Why stay with an inefficient, undemocratic and expensivenurse’?

Because faulty though it undoubtedly is, the European Union has improved the economic and environmental conditions of those who have to work very hard for a living, with comparatively low wages.

Cameron's real change

Sadly, despite the efforts of the EU, the current government continues to reduce the help needed by low wage earners, the unemployed, the disabled and young people, whilst passing measures which benefit their already wealthy soulmates.

One dream team: a Corbyn/Lib Dem/Green/Plaid coalition government which would exert pressure on the EU to reform its constitution, ensure that its finances passed the auditors’ scrutiny and wholeheartedly implement good legislation improving the social, environmental and economic well-being of the 99%.


Has anyone a better idea?

air2 quality header

After sharing an article about air pollution, this notice was received:

Places are now available at this year’s National Air Quality Conference with a top line up of speakers including officials from Defra and the Scottish Government.

The event is run by in partnership this year with PTEG, the Passenger Transport Executive Group and will be held at The Studio in the centre of Birmingham: Caxton Gate, 14 Cannon St, Birmingham B2 5EP.

With air quality increasingly an issue within the UK whether concerning transport or industrial emissions or other issues such as dust, the conference provides a unique opportunity to get fully up-to-date on topics, to network and to get your questions answered.

In the light of recent events this workshop will be of particular interest:

diesel 2text

For the agenda and cost, go to:

Having doffed his green, safe and smart cap, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for community safety, James McKay, has now written to welcome the Government’s latest approach to extremism – “tackling the threat from terrorism in all its forms. We can’t pick and choose which extremism we want to tackle. We need to fight it all”.

bham air pollution

As an estimated 1460 Birmingham people die from air pollution each year, the government prefers to focus on terrorism, which has killed very few.

Public Health England reports show that air pollution is estimated to cause 1,460 excess deaths a year in Birmingham and the Government has been ordered by the UK’s highest court to take immediate action over its obligations under European law on air pollution limits.

In April, ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reported from Birmingham, one of the worst affected cities. Watch the video:

George Monbiot correctly points out that factors likely to kill far more people in this country than terrorists will manage, include:

  • diet, smoking, alcohol,
  • the slow collapse of the NHS,
  • child poverty,
  • air pollution,
  • traffic accidents,
  • lack of exercise,
  • even accidents due to the wrong kind of bedroom slippers,
  • and the writer adds, domestic violence,

and longer term:

  • climate change,
  • antibiotic resistance,
  • soil loss
  • and nuclear proliferation by states (including our own)

Monbiot insists that all the hazards he named – except nuclear proliferation – should be given more resources and political effort than are deployed to confront Islamic extremism.

Jonathan Walker wonders whether the British public really is crying out for socialism. Yes: all over the country thousands are currently flocking to meetings looking for a truer form of socialism, offering equality of security and opportunity to all.

John Gray (LSE, emeritus professor) describes our world ruled by and for “financial and geopolitical forces that care nothing for the human individual” . . .

Corbyn’s supporters at last see some hope of a society in which people elected to serve actually do just that – serve the public interest and create a system in which all can flourish – not just those already well placed.

At present, commitments to reducing greenhouse gases are set aside as government, encouraged by oil corporates, reneges on commitments to develop clean energy and lobbyists such as the chancellor’s father-in-law advises it to avoid the affluent (and therefore unbribable) south and concentrate fracking in the north.


The 99% pay the heaviest price in most respects, for instance:

  • privately run services grow ever more expensive and often inefficient
  • for years, health-damaging air pollution in cities has risen above legal limits.

If not for ethical reasons, would enlightened self-interest encourage people to support action for the common good?

In a society where all can flourish would we find that contented people, respected for their contribution to society, do not attack their fellows in the street, cheat them or rob their homes?

 They might well not wish to admit they have no answer.

Public Health England

Public Health England

After it was reported that two Selly Oak councillors failed to answer a letter from their constituent, the FT brought news of 9,400 premature London deaths in 2010 due to air pollution, according to a study by King’s College London academics. More than 3,000 people were admitted to hospital with breathing and heart problems linked to air pollution in 2010. The economic cost of all these health problems was estimated to range from £1.4bn to £3.7bn.

The study found that the pollutants were commonly found in fumes from diesel trucks, buses and cars and a significant amount of particulate pollution came from outside London, at sources such as power stations and other industrial plants on the continent. John Vidal, whose health has been affected by air pollution, describes this as a toxic soup of nitrogen oxide gases and minute particles of unburned carbon and chemicals, produced by vehicles and fossil fuel-burning central-heating systems:  “PM2.5s, which get deep into the lungs and bloodstream from exhaust fumes, can greatly worsen respiratory and heart conditions such as my own, trigger heart attacks and lead to brain damage, cancers, even nerve, liver and kidney diseases”.

Since 2010, beneficial measures taken in the capital include setting tighter low emission zone standards; age limits for taxis and more than 1,300 hybrid buses.

Microcab's fleet of zero emission H2Evs: 55mph top speed,180 mile range on full tank

Microcab’s fleet of zero emission H2Evs: 55mph top speed,180 mile range on full tank

Volumes are now worst in congested cities such as London, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield. Professor Rex Harris is one of many working on clean technologies at the universities of Birmingham (below – link) and Coventry (above).

PROTIUM hydrogen barge

Professor Harris is concerned about ‘the ever present menace of diesel emissions in the City and, in particular, in New Street Station’:

“I was waiting for a local train last Sunday at around 11 pm and while waiting on platform 11, there were 3 diesel trains spewing out diesel emissions which must have exceeded any safety limits”. He asks:

  • Has the Environment Agency monitored the atmosphere on these platforms and assessed the health risks to the station staff and passengers?
  • How are these factors influenced by the refurbishment?
  • What is the particle count in the shopping area above?

ciraslogoSee an earlier exchange on a confidential reporting system, ‘a safety net for industry’:

Professor Harris  refers to the supreme court’s order requiring the government to draw up a new UK air-quality plan; but though it has accepted that air pollution costs the economy up to £18bn a year, equal to a seventh of all NHS spending, John Vidal adds that government has told Europe that it will not meet legal NO2 limits in London, Birmingham and Leeds for 16 years, and in cities such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Glasgow for 10.

State homicide?

1utrecht canalside2

As Birmingham develops canalside flats and offices, the potential for passenger transport – already flourishing on the Thames in London – is greater than for carrying freight. The city also has a great need to improve its air quality.

The city of Utrecht in the Netherlands uses a zero emission electric boat to make deliveries in the city centre. Owned and run by the city and known as the ‘Beer Boat’, the vessel makes six trips, four days a week supplying more than 60 catering businesses along the canal front. Funding for the boat came from the city’s air quality improvement budget.

The advantages of water transport include:

  • greater safety: separated from pedestrians, cyclists and motorists,
  • lower emissions,
  • lower fuel costs,
  • less need for road and track maintenance,
  • less road traffic congestion
  • less noise and vibration,
  • improved quality of life and urban environment.

The Passenger Transport Executive Group – pteg – which brings together and promotes the interests of the six transport bodies serving the largest city regions outside London, published a report in February. To enable more use of the canals, the report recommended ‘network capacity enhancements’, including the development of more support for ongoing maintenance of waterways.

ross barlow city backgroundAs Professor Rex Harris once wrote, our canals and the emission-less hydrogen fuel cell boat, the Ross Barlow, designed by a team at the university of Birmingham, provide a pointer to the future.

One reader pointed out that electricity powered boats should be preferred because the technology is tried and tested, but so is the Ross Barlow prototype (left). Hydrogen has been generated and stored safely and reversibly for long periods as a metal hydride on the boat – storing energy to be converted into electricity by means of a hydrogen/oxygen fuel cell which produces ultra-pure water as the only by-product.

Both electricity and hydrogen-driven vessels will stand or fall by the source of their power: electricity or hydrogen generated by renewable resources. The price of renewable energy is becoming more competitive and Denmark is developing technology to produce hydrogen at the tanking station from wind energy. Their goal is low costs hydrogen with a high conversion efficiency. It is also reported that in Germany hydrogen is already being pumped into its grid, and electrolyzers are storing excess wind energy as hydrogen gas for long periods.

Birmingham’s canals are a neglected and underused resource; clean waterway transport should be integrated into plans for canalside residential, retail and office developments.

canalside ariel mailbox

One precedent is the dedicated waterbus service (above, pink) operated by Sherborne Wharf Heritage Narrow Boats, stopping at Brindleyplace, King Edwards Wharf, Gas Street Basin and The Mailbox. However, like most waterway vessels currently used, they cause both noise and air pollution.

Proposals for the use of clean hydrogen-powered barges in Birmingham, include:

  • transport from the City Centre to the Soho Foundry associated with Boulton and Watt, becoming a major tourist feature and source of employment and income for the City and the Black Country;
  • a reconsideration by Sainsburys, leading to the restoration of the Lapal canal link at Selly Oak, incorporating a mooring site for the Ross Barlow. The old pump-house could serve as a visitors centre and the trip into town would take in the new aqueduct over the Selly Oak by-pass;
  • a hydrogen powered water-bus to provide a city-centre service for the long-delayed development at Icknield Port. As city-based architect and urban planner Joe Holyoak says in the Post, the site has an unusually high ratio of canal frontage, more typical of Amsterdam or Bruges than of Birmingham.

One reader responded to an earlier article on the Ross Barlow, emailing that the emphasis should be on walking and cycling rather than vehicular transport. This writer is also a walker and cyclist, but ecologically sound public transport will always be needed for longer distances or quicker journeys, for people constrained by age, disability – and those who have wanted to move to a better form of transport but have found cycling too frightening after years driving a car.

canalside cafe brum

Hopefully, canal passenger transport policy will focus not only on leisure canal traffic, enjoyable though that can be (above) and will learn from Sustrans who years ago used the large funding awarded to them to build leisure cycling tracks in rural tourist areas instead of prioritising dedicated urban cycle paths to take thousands of people to their daily workplaces.

Birmingham has been named and shamed by the World Health Organisation for breaching safety levels for air pollution. Noting that the funding for its zero emission boat came from Utrecht’s air quality improvement budget, the city council should do all it can to encourage low and no emission transport of goods and passengers.