The Light Rail Transit Association (LRTA) campaigning arm, TramForward, is arguing that the UK government should encourage the development of tram systems in the country’s major cities in order to combat air pollution.

The UK government is currently looking at a fine of up to £300m from the European Commission (EC) for breaching nitrogen dioxide limits in 16 zones in the country and failure to reduce concentrations by 2010 deadline.

Most UK cities currently depend on diesel buses for public transport. However, TramForward is arguing that the UK government can take steps to replace buses with electric trams.

"The time has come to learn from our continental neighbours."

According to TramForward, this will reduce the number of diesel-powered vehicles on the streets, and even attract automobile users onto public transport.

LRTA chairman Andrew Braddock said: "The time has come to learn from our continental neighbours the huge benefits to air quality, reductions in traffic congestion and the quality of life that modern tramways bring."

The 16 zones that exceeded the limits of nitrogen dioxide include Greater London, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Teesside, North Staffordshire, Hull, Southampton, Glasgow, the East, the South East, the East Midlands, Merseyside, Yorkshire & Humberside, and the North East.

European Union environment commissioner Janez Potocnik said: "It is an invisible killer and it prevents many people from living a fully active life. It already costs Europe 330bn-940bn Euros (£277bn-£789bn) a year in extra health costs and prematurely killed over 100,000 people a year."

TramForward also suggested the local transport bodies to focus on providing environmentally friendly public transport rather than building more roads.