FREE bus passes should be given to all Portsmouth residents to combat the city's growing air pollution issues - a council leader has said.
Head of Portsmouth council, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, has drawn up a series of demands in a bid to prevent a clean air zone being imposed on the city, which could see drivers forced to pay £8 a day to use their cars.
In a letter to the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, MP Michael Gove, Cllr Vernon-Jackson has lobbied for funding for a number of schemes to help with air quality in the city.
These include free bus passes, trolley buses, electric taxi fleets and a transfer system to bring lorry loads into the city via electric vehicles.
It comes after the latest readings of dangerous nitrous dioxide (NO2) in the city showed that 16 areas in Portsmouth were above the 'safe' level last year - up from four in 2017.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: 'The data shows a significant increase in NO2 in what are known as our air quality management areas (AQMAs).
'We have to provide a report on this to government by October. If we can't prove that we can improve on this within a short space of time they will impose a clean air zone on us.
'There are different types of clean air zones, such as some that just charge heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). But it could also mean charging to drive cars in the city. I was looking at plans for a clean air zone in Birmingham that will charge £8 a day for cars and £50 for HGVs.'
It is estimated that more than half of air pollution in Portsmouth is caused by cars, HGVs and buses.
He added: 'We are asking for the cost of bus passes to be covered because we know that many people say they don't use public transport due to the cost.'
For the council's environment boss, Cllr Dave Ashmore, the health implications of poor air quality were a concern. He said: 'The threat of bad air quality affects the wellbeing of people and a lot of people suffer from illnesses, such as asthma, related to this.
'We know that some deaths in the city are linked to air pollution, we need to take this seriously. It is a matter of life and death.
'The fact that the government have set a ministerial directive on us shows how serious it is.'
Cllr Vernon-Jackson's letter also asked for housing targets in the city to be scrapped, allowing the council to set their own.
He said: 'It seems mad that government says we need to reduce air pollution but that we have to significantly increase the number of houses when more houses will naturally increase the amount of cars in the city.'
EU directive and UK law states that NO2 levels must not be more than 40 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre of air.