‘Living green walls’ that absorb pollution could soon be built along major commuter routes around Birmingham.
Structures in the city lined with trees, bushes and other greenery would deliver cleaner air at the roadside according to new plans.
It is estimated that 900 deaths a year in Birmingham are linked to air pollution through conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and cancer.
The plans, put forward by Birmingham Conservatives ahead of the May 3 UK local elections, suggest lining the city’s ‘urban canyons’ with green structures.
Urban canyons are confined areas of a city that are flanked by high walls of concrete or glass, such as busy roads.
Because pollution cannot easily escape street canyons, lining them with green walls of grass, climbing ivy and other plants could filter out dangerous particles.
One Birmingham Conservative councillor said the walls could remove 40 per cent of nitrogen oxides and 60 per cent of particulate matter from the surrounding air.
Exposure to these pollutants has previously been linked with a higher chance of cancer and heart attacks in adults, as well as lung problems in children.
Plans for green walls in Birmingham would dip into a £500 million ($700 million) pot of national funds to improve the city’s green infrastructure.
Birmingham Conservatives intend to line the Aston Expressway, a major commuter route out of the city, and other ‘canyon locations’ in the city with living walls.
The city already has a green wall at Centenary Square in the city’s centre, with London also sporting a number of the living structures at sites including Edgware Road Underground Station, Westfield Shopping Centre and Park Lane.
‘Greening up’ our streets with urban walls could reduce pollution in urban areas by as much as 30 per cent, according to a 2012 paper from the Universities of Birmingham and Lancaster.
Councillor Robert Alden, Leader of the Conservative Group in Birmingham, said: ‘Our vision means that we not only deliver clean air, but in doing that transform our City to being a global leading Green City.
‘The plans Birmingham Conservatives are setting out will transform Birmingham with green infrastructure like living green walls being installed on city canyon locations like parts of the Aston Expressway to help clean the air around our roads.
‘Research shows that they can remove up to 40 per cent of NOx and 60 per cent of particulate matter from the surrounding air.
‘A Conservative Council would create a green infrastructure network across Birmingham, it would include living green walls, urban forests, micro parks and use of new technology like ‘City Trees’ which are 13-foot frames of moss covering that has the cleaning power of 275 tress.’
The plans have brought criticism from some members of the public, with locals taking to social media to voice their concerns.
Commenting on the proposed plans for the notoriously busy route, Clair Roberts said: ‘No way! How did they get rid of the cars?’
Chris Milne wrote: ‘Given it is THE WAY in or out of Birmingham for anything other than the South West, I wonder why they don’t prioritise the M6 North & South thoroughfares instead of worrying about what the view is while you’re stuck in traffic on it. I suspect the pollution will drop if the cars weren’t sat there unnecessarily.’
Lynda Spence wrote: ‘Why waste money? It’s been like this for years. Give it to the NHS instead.’
Joe Eveson commented: ‘I just can’t imagine it with green walls – it would be like a totally different world.’
The walls are not the first radical environmental change set for Britain’s polluted roads.
Large ‘tunnels’ covering stretches of motorway to protect locals from dangerous levels of pollution are being considered by Highways England.
The agency said in its August 2017 air quality strategy that it is exploring the possibility of building physical canopies around main roads to soak up car fumes.
It is working on trials using a material that can absorb nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which can cause lung disease and is produced by diesel engines.
In its report, Highways England said it is ‘investigating if we can reduce the costs to construct a canopy, which is a tunnel-like structure designed to prevent vehicle emissions reaching our neighbours’.