Taking a deep breath: a qualitative study exploring acceptability and perceived unintended consequences of charging clean air zones and air quality improvement initiatives amongst low-income, multi-ethnic communities in Bradford, UK

Publication authors

Rukhsana Rashid, Felisha Chong, Shahid Islam, Maria Bryant & Rosemary R. C. McEachan


Poor air quality is the one of the biggest causes of early death and illness across the lifespan. In the UK, 28 local authorities with illegal pollution levels have been mandated by the Government to develop plans to rapidly reduce pollution to legal limits. These plans include consideration of implementing one of four of charging ‘Clean Air Zone’ (CAZ) classes in areas of high pollution which would charge older polluting vehicles a daily charge to enter. While this offers a potential to improve air quality, the extent to which CAZ might impact (for example, economically) on socio-economically deprived groups and local businesses is unclear.

To explore the acceptability and perceived unintended consequences of a CAZ and other initiatives to improve air quality with seldom-heard communities living in deprived, multi-ethnic areas within the city of Bradford, UK.

Ten semi-structured focus groups were conducted with people who live in areas of high pollution and deprivation. A total of 87 people participated from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds with the majority of Pakistani origin. Recorded data were transcribed, coded and analysed using thematic analysis.

As poor air quality was not always visible it was seen as a hidden issue by many, and not prioritised over other more visible environmental issues (e.g. fly-tipping, littering). There was resistance to proposals which included charging private vehicles. Many felt that low-income families did not have the resources to purchase compliant vehicles or pay daily charges, placing a disproportionate burden on them. It was also felt that low-income taxi drivers would be disproportionately affected financially by proposals. Public transport infrastructure was felt to be inadequate. Other traffic management or emission reduction activities were also explored. Views towards these initiatives were more positive if they did not directly affect individuals financially.

Air quality initiatives such as CAZs were felt to be likely to financially disadvantage communities already living in socio-economic and environmental poverty. Policy makers need to carefully consider appropriate mitigation strategies to ensure that health and economic inequalities are not increased by implementation of CAZ. Given air quality is low priority for some groups, careful engagement and communication will be required to increase acceptance interventions such as CAZs.

Peer Review reports