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Successful Action Day for Portsmouth Air Quality

#LetPompeyBreathe had another successful action day on the 4th April with a gathering in Guildhall Square, and a public meeting at the Southsea Village Pub later in same the day. Portsmouth Green Party joined with Portsmouth Friends of the Earth and Keith Taylor MEP to call for Portsmouth City Council to tackle the illegal pollution levels in the city. The heath burden was symbolised by a cluster of head stones pointing out the approximately 100 early deaths linked to air pollution per year in the city, and the cause of death: “inaction”. Leaflets were distributed by volunteers to the public, who in many cases were completely unaware of the danger they were routinely exposed to by NO2 and particulate pollution.

letter was delivered by Tim Sheerman-Chase, a local air quality campaigner, addressed to the head of Portsmouth City Council, the Council CEO, the Regulatory Services Manager and the head of Portsmouth public health, calling for strong action to tackle the problem.

The evening meeting was well attended with a panel comprising: Rachel Hudson, Portsmouth Friends of the Earth, Rob Bailey, Milton Neighbourhood Forum, and Keith Taylor MEP. Several people spoke out about their local concerns, including schools being next to busy polluted roads. Measures to tackle pollution were discussed, including improving bus services, a Healthy Streets policy for urban planning, improved monitoring around the city, ensuring new developments are sustainable including in terms of traffic pollution, and pushing for a car free day in the city centre. Keith launched his Polluted Cities Hampshire report, which outlines the situation in Portsmouth, Reading and Winchester.

Following the event, Mr. Taylor, a member of the European Parliament’s Environment and Public Health Committee, said:

“There is an overwhelming demand from residents for action on air pollution in Portsmouth. The graveyard protest is a macabre but vital reminder that green campaigners won’t let the Council sit idly by while the people of Pompey choke.”

Rachel Hudson, from Portsmouth Friends of the Earth, added:

“It shouldn’t be an aspiration to have clean, fresh air for everyone, everywhere in our city – it is our right. We’ve been monitoring air pollution levels using our own diffusion tubes and we want to ensure community input is listened to by those who can make a difference. With people’s health being at risk, adequate public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure are urgently needed.”

#LetPompeyBreathe is also launching a petition to call for action by Portsmouth City Council to address pollution. 1000 signatures will have the petition debated by the full council. (Watch this space for when it is ready and live!)

Media Coverage

MEP to Address Air Pollution Danger in Portsmouth, Star and Crescent, 3rd April

Green MEP launches new air pollution report with ‘graveyard’ stunt in Portsmouth


Air quality action day: 4th April

Portsmouth City Council are Failing Us!

We demand action now!

The Department of Health has identified air pollution as one of the biggest health risks across the UK and sadly Public Health England estimates 95 premature deaths in Portsmouth every year from small particulate pollution. Furthermore, with air quality across the city exceeding legal levels of Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) we need urgent action to ensure the city is a safer place for pedestrians, cyclists and children walking to school.

Be part of the 1000 people to trigger a council debate – Take action for clean air and sign the e-petition.

The Portsmouth Air Quality Strategy was published by PCC in 2017, however, we still await the delayed consultation of the draft action plan, which must set out how air quality will be brought into safe levels.

Petition launch event, 15:30-17:00 Guildhall Square, see details

Public meeting at 19:30, see details


Portsmouth Air Quality in The News

Tracey McCulloch, a fellow air quality campaigner, wrote into The News about the recent High Court ruling.

Portsmouth has consistently breached World Health Organization guidelines, with 95 premature deaths each year attributed to air pollution by the council’s own figures, yet all we hear from Councillor Robert New, the cabinet member for environment, is that air quality is improving. We need action now to save lives in Portsmouth.

Robert New is quoted as saying “Improving air quality and reducing congestion underpins our local transport plan and is at the forefront of all our active travel initiatives. We have recently applied to the Air Quality Grant Fund, in the hope of progressing with further actions to reduce local air quality levels.”

Presumably saying we want to “reduce local air quality levels” was a typo! On the other hand, Portsmouth City Council seems to be mostly relying on wishful thinking in tackling air pollution.

A response letter was published in the paper titled “Punitive restrictions on local residents’ car use would kill our city“. Tracey had a further letter published that provided more background to the air quality situation in Portsmouth.

I was disappointed to see E Wilson’s letter (March 3rd) claiming that Portsmouth can’t survive without ever-increasing numbers of cars on our roads.  The whole point of the article referred to is that lives are already being shortened in the city by our poor air quality.

Let me fill everyone in on the context of my original concern, which was left out of the original article in The News on Feb 27th. On 22nd February it was announced that the UK government will not be appealing against a successful case by Client Earth (a group of lawyers) who, yet again, took our government back to the High court to rule that the plans that have been proposed so far to tackle air pollution were flawed and unlawful.
The judge then ordered ministers to require local authorities to investigate and identify measures to tackle illegal levels of pollution in 33 towns and cities as soon as possible.
And guess what? …. Portsmouth is Number 1 on that list! It concerns me greatly that no press attention has been given to this. Which is why I was prepared to speak up in the original statement in The News.

I have been concerned about rising air pollution in the city over the past few years and last year in June at a city council meeting I gave a deputation when the Portsmouth City Council air quality strategy was discussed. I objected to the lack of detail in the report and was assured thatthe action plan would be developed before that Xmas. In November last year the South East MEP went along to the council to discuss the urgency for this action plan. As yet we still have no action plan and there has been no consultation that needs to take place beforehand. Thecouncil reports on air pollution are currently being reviewed by groups in the city. I think we are all owed a response to this latest legal obligation. Groups in the City are joining together to work on making sure we get a proper action plan for this city. Please check LETPOMPEYBREATHE on Facebook to find out more.

The issue of having good alternatives to car use is an important one and hopefully will be addressed in a later blog post. The Breathing Cities campaign puts it this way:

The Breathing Cities campaign is about moving from cities and streets that are designed for cars, towards cities and streets that are designed for people. The more people choose to drive, the more the urban system is re-designed to accommodate drivers. And vice-versa if more people choose to walk, cycle and use public transport. Breathing Cities is about enabling people to use public transport, walk and cycle conveniently, and without the stress and danger of congestion, noise and pollution. The problems of air pollution and congestion are two really good reasons to focus on making our city transport systems less car dependent. Everyone will get around faster with fewer cars. It has also been shown that the noise that traffic produces means that people walking nearby are less likely to to talk, be patient, or help strangers, no matter how inviting the pavement may be. Even the sound of light car traffic can trigger stress. Breathing Cities is about making streets places that people choose to spend time in.


Failure at All Levels of Government to Tackle Air pollution

Back in 2008, the risk to public health from air pollution lead to legal NO2 limits being established by the EU (known as Directive 2008/50/EC, Article 13). Compliance was supposed to happen by 2010, but has not been achieved in many cities around the UK. Since air pollution has a health burden equivalent to around 40,000 deaths per year in the UK, we need to urgently address the problem. The High Court recently wrote “Proper and timely compliance with the law in this field matters.” This is recognized by law in the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010, Regulation 26 which requires that “measures intended to ensure compliance with any relevant limit value within the shortest possible time” are enacted.

Central government is legally required to produce a national air quality plan. However, previous versions have been challenged by the campaign group ClientEarth, an environment and public health charity. ClientEarth successfully argued in the High Court that the plan was inadequate, both in April 2015 and again in November 2016. The latest government plan was published in July 2017 and titled “UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations“.

The 2017 plan divided areas depending on if they will be compliant with NO2 legal limits either within 3 years or more than 3 years (plus another five cities of highest concern). The government argued that this is a proportionate response given financial constraints. For the 23 local authorities (LAs) that will not be compliant within a few years, the plan required that they have to introduce Clean Air Zones (CAZs, or something at least as effective), the measures are to be introduced at pace, and preceded by an additional local action plan. Another 45 LAs which exceed the NO2 limit but are expect to be within compliance by 2021 were not required to produce an additional local action plan. Portsmouth is among the 45 LAs and expected to come into compliance with air quality standards last of all; in other words, it is the most polluted in this group.

Serious doubts have been raised as to whether Portsmouth will come into compliance in anywhere near this time frame, given that traffic levels are projected to increase 41% between 2016 and 2026, along with a city centre road scheme designed to significantly increase road capacity. ClientEarth also suspects that most local authority projections are based on over optimistic modelling.

In February 2018, the High Court ruled that the approach taken for the 45 LAs was again found to be insufficient, as the government’s air quality plan did not address the “shortest possible time” requirement specified in law. The court ruled that the government cannot not simply ignore or water down the legal requirement for cities expected to come into compliance within 3 years:

“The Secretary of State must ensure that, in each of the 45 areas, steps are taken to achieve compliance as soon as possible, by the quickest route possible and by a means that makes that outcome likely. The CAZ benchmark cannot be treated as a means of watering down those obligations.”

Also, the court found that there was no defined mechanism for enforcing the air quality plan for the 45 LAs. The sending of “polite letters from the Government urging additional steps by individual local authorities are not enough. […] the failure to make mandatory any step in the case of the 45 means that the Government cannot show either that it is taking steps to “ensure” compliance or, as a result, that compliance is “likely”.”

The High Court also ruled that air quality plans need to be specific: “A list of measures which have been carried out, are underway, are promised or are being investigated, does not constitute compliance with [EU regulations] Annex XV or [English regulations] Schedule 8; it does not amount to a plan describing the measures set out in a project; with timetables for implementation; estimates of the improvement of air quality that will follow and an indication of the expected time required to attain the objectives.” Unfortunately, many local air quality plans follow the same template as the national government. The court did find that “the projected compliance of these 45 local authority areas rests on unspecified, untimetabled measures which have not been modelled”, so it is very sensible that local air quality plans are subjected to extra scrutiny.

The court required extra action to be taken in 33 LAs (out of 45) because they are not expected to achieve compliance by the end of this year (2018). No extra action was required for the 12 LAs that are expected to reach compliance this year. Portsmouth is literally at the top of the list within the 33 areas needing to take urgent action (see Annex K).

Local Portsmouth councillors such as conservative Robert New, cabinet member for environment and community safety, seem to be in denial, recently claiming we don’t need a clean air zone and this is somehow “good news”:

“…the government minister leading the air quality review … has written to us to advise that Portsmouth does not require a clean air quality management zone. This is really good news for the city, in part because it also shows the measures taken by our environmental health team are paying off… I think in Portsmouth we are fortunate as well, we also benefit from things such as Solent breezes, etc. I know I’m no expert on these matters, I’m sure that all of these things have an impact when combined.”

Portsmouth is still facing an air pollution crisis and the City Council has not taken strong action. However, the recent High Court ruling should put Portsmouth on track to take serious measures to rapidly address this problem. Both sides in the High Court action seem to accept that Clean Air Zones (CAZs) are generally the best way to quickly reduce air pollution. However, a CAZ takes around 3 years to implement and may be difficult manage in Portsmouth because of the HGV traffic wishing to travel on to the Isle of Wight. On the other hand, there are only three road links on to Portsea Island making it easier to monitor.

Tompion Platt of Living Streets comment that “inaction from Government and Local Authorities simply cannot continue. Making it possible for people to switch to more efficient, healthy and clean forms of transportation is the best way to make the UK’s air breathable for us all.”

Unusually, the High Court has taken oversight of the next air quality plan because of the urgency of the problem and the repeated failure of the government to properly address it. We call on Portsmouth Council Council to update their air quality plans to address the problem within the shortest possible time.

PS. Check out The Rubbish State of Recycling in Portsmouth by Emma Murphy in the Star & Crescent!


Quantifying the Harm Caused by Air Pollution

Air pollution has been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as dementia including Alzheimer’s disease. One way to quantify the impact on health is to compare pollution levels with demographic data. While the methodology to calculate this is complicated, it gives an estimated number of deaths attributable to air pollution.

In the 2014 Public Health England report Estimating Local Mortality Burdens associated with Particulate Air Pollution, a study of PM2.5 pollution, estimated the number of attributable deaths (aged 25+) as 95 per year in Portsmouth. This accounts for 5.9% of caused deaths and an associated 1059 life-years lost each year. While this figure has been quoted as the total number of deaths caused by air pollution, such as in the Portsmouth Public Heath Annual Report 2016, this does not account for pollution from other sources such as NO2.

The added effect of other pollutants was addressed in the 2016 report Every breath we take by the Royal College of Physicians. They estimate 40,000 deaths a year nationally. “The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) estimates 29,000 ‘equivalent’ deaths annually from exposure to PM 2.5 in the UK, with only a small fraction of that figure relating to exposures to concentrations in excess of legal limits. This figure increases to around 40,000 if the recently described effects of NO 2 are taken into account.” This corresponds to 130 deaths a year in Portsmouth, so the Public Health report is probably underestimating the risk. (Other reports estimate 50000 deaths/year nationally).

However, not everyone is convinced the NO2 estimate is reliable. Anthony Frew, a Professor of Allergy & Respiratory Medicine, stated that “The extra 11,000 deaths is speculation. My reading is that there is no proof. People don’t really understand if the effects on health are the result of NO2 or from other pollutants that come from the same sources.” In short, the exact health burden is still under investigation.

It is important to remember that air pollution health burdens are a statistical tool. People generally don’t die from air pollution alone. There are not literally 40,000 people with air pollution on their death certificate. The health burden is really a shortening of many peoples lives, along with poor health and societal costs associated with that. Flew points out “The public discussion has shorthanded the whole issue. There is loss of life from air pollution but the discussion of deaths isn’t helpful – we should be talking about the impact on people’s lives”. We can loosely use these statistical tools as a rough measure of the relative risk to public health, while remembering not to misinterpret what the numbers actually mean.

Postscript: I’ve seen a figure of 600 early deaths per year in Portsmouth cited by the former director of public health but I have no information about the methodology or original source for this number. If anyone knows, please get in touch!


The urgent need for a new Clean Air Bill

The Great Smog of 1952 caused an estimated 4000 deaths from a 5 day event, and showed the urgent need for controls on pollution. This lead to the Clean Air Act of 5 July 1956 which mandated the use of smokeless fuels in certain areas to reduce sulphur dioxide levels. The law was further tweaked by the Clean Air Act 1968, which increased the height of chimneys for industrial use. Today, we face a challenge from the risks of NO2 and particulate pollution. UK law has been slow to catch up with the dangers facing people’s health.

The EU introduced the 2008 Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC) to limit the outdoor levels of NO2 and particulates. This was brought into British law by the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010. While the limits specified are legally binding on local councils, they are often breached. 278 of the 391 local authorities missed the legal targets last year. While the European Commission could fine the UK, that would not bring down the pollution level in a reasonable time. At current levels, air pollution in the UK causes tens of thousands of deaths per year, so it is vitally important that we take stronger action.

Labour MP Geraint Davies introduced a draft Clean Air Bill which had its first reading in November 2018. It’s second reading is expected on 2nd Feb. This bill aims to introduce sensible measures such as proper monitoring of on-road diesel pollution, new powers to ban diesel vehicles from low emission zones, improving cycle and pedestrian routes and better electric-powered public transport. Unfortunately, private member bills rarely are passed into law but they may do with enough public pressure.

A separate draft bill has been developed by Clean Air in London together with Baroness Jenny Jones. This focuses on the right to breathe clean air, the principle that the polluter pays, pollution limits set by scientific evidence and the precautionary principle, new powers for local authorities, an enhanced role for the Environment Agency and a new emphasis on tackling climate change.

Clean Air in London recently commented “In a sense, [our] proposal is ‘top down’ (clean air as a human right with requirements, principles and mechanisms defined and passed down) and Geraint Davies’ excellent draft Clean Air Bill is ‘bottom up’ e.g. clear actions on specific sources of pollution and specific solutions. The approaches are complementary, both address important issues, and lend themselves to being merged (or enacted separately).”

Both campaign groups have committed to working together to have new standards for clean air enacted in law.

Jenny Jones said “I’m very excited by the idea of the Clean Air Bill making the right to healthy air a human right. We should all enjoy clean air even when we are working in a busy city, or living under an airport flight path. I hope that people will add their ideas to this Bill and support my attempt to push the government into action.

There are big debates coming up this year as we need to replace the European environmental safeguards with tough UK laws and enforcement. I think this Bill contains some key proposals which could make us world leader for environmental regulation.”

We need to keep applying pressure on our elected representatives to make sure a new Clean Air Bill actually happens. Write to your MP to make them aware of the air pollution crisis!


How did we end up with so many diesel cars?

A call from to introduce clean air zones in our cities, diesel scrappage and a new Clean Air Act.


Green Drinks on Air Quality

About 30 people attending Green Drinks yesterday focused on local air pollution. I personally heard from people from Portsmouth Friends of the Earth (FOE), Portsmouth Cycle Forum (Waterlooville Air), Portsmouth Green Party, Campaign Exchange Portsmouth, Keep Milton Green (I think), Friends of Old Portsmouth and others. Some great ideas we suggested included increasing pedestrian+cycle routes, auditing the council’s air quality sensors and IOT particulate sensor networks. Many thanks to Mike Dobson for such an informative talk.

Friends of the Earth are organizing a walk on 20th Jan around local green spaces (Kingston Park, Milton Cemetery, Milton Common, Baffins Pond and Kingston Cemetery) to highlight their value.


Traffic Levels Spell Trouble for Portsmouth

Air pollution is a big problem in Portsmouth. To plan for the future, we need to know if the problem is getting better or worse, and by how much. One of the biggest contributors to air pollution is local traffic.  A 2010 report commissioned by Portsmouth City Council found that a significant increase in traffic was expected:

Traffic in Portsmouth is expected to grow by 41% between 2009 and 2031 due to a combination of housing and employment related trips that will be attracted and generated by the proposed development sites in the City. […] The forecast impact of the additional demand generated by new development, not only in Portsmouth, but surrounding local authorities would lead to a 41% increase in traffic on the approaches to the City. More importantly a significant proportion of that increase would occur on the M275/Western Corridor. (Western Corridor Transport Study, 2010)

Portsmouth City Council (PCC) operate a number of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate monitoring stations. The legal limit for NO2 is 40μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre). More traffic is a cause of concern in high pollution areas, including along the western corridor M275/Mile End Road/Market Way/Anglesea Road, specifically:

  • Stanley Road (by the M275), 36μg/m3 NO2 in 2016 (which is increasing year on year)
  • Sovereign Gate (Commercial Rd) 36μg/m3 NO2 in 2016
  • Lord Montgomery Way, already 43.5μg/m3 NO2 in 2016 (which is increasing year on year)

An increase in 41% in traffic levels would be disastrous for air quality in Portsmouth and push these areas into an illegal and unsafe level of pollution.

However, a 2017 study commissioned by Portsmouth City Council to determine the scale of the air pollution problem in 2020 only allowed for a 2.1% rise in city wide traffic from 2015 to 2020. This seems to be inconsistent with the 2010 traffic report. Based on the 2017 study, Portsmouth City Council hopes that the introduction of less polluting vehicles will bring the city within legal pollution limits. If the 2017 traffic projection is wrong and we do see a large increase in traffic, we would likely see air pollution get even worse. PCC seem to want to have it both ways: to build new roads for higher traffic levels at the same time as claiming traffic levels are not significantly increasing.

Portsmouth City Council is currently planning a major road scheme in the city centre, intended to reduce congestion by increasing capacity. It is currently at the planning application stage (please go there and comment! [Update: I am told that the closing date for comments is Friday 12th Jan]). However, simply increasing road capacity is only going to worsen air quality. What we need to do instead is to reduce car usage by providing alternatives, including public transport and bicycle routes.


Green Drinks and Air Quality

Wednesday 10 January Portsmouth Green Drinks 7:30pm – Mike Dobson from Friends of Old Portsmouth Association will bring more thoughts to the table with: ‘A community perspective of Portsmouth’s Air Quality Strategy.’  The Kings, 39 Albert Road, Southsea PO5 2SE.

Update: another overview of where we are with #LetPompeyBreathe:


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