I presented the Let Pompey Breathe air quality petition to Portsmouth City Council meeting today (video stream is available starting at 15m 30s):

Signatures for this petition were collected by the Let Pompey Breathe campaign group in just 8 weeks. It calls for Portsmouth City Council to “commit to reducing air pollution in Portsmouth to ensure compliance with legal limits and World Health Organisation guidelines as soon as possible, certainly no later than December 2020, and therefore urgently publish its Air Quality Action Plan for consultation, incorporating quantifiable outcomes to address the city’s illegal and unhealthy air pollution levels”. I’d like to provide some legal background.

The Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 states that “The air quality plan must include measures intended to ensure compliance with any relevant limit value within the shortest possible time.” The word “ensure” is critical as plans need to be realistic, specific and quantified. Also important is the phrase “within the shortest possible time”, which reflects the urgency of the situation. Previous air quality policies have met neither of these requirements.

According to the High Court ruling published in February 2018, “steps are [to be] taken to achieve compliance as soon as possible, by the quickest route possible and by a means that makes that outcome likely”. They also stated “A list of measures which have been carried out, are underway, are promised or are being investigated, does not constitute compliance with [the act]”.

DEFRA has argued that their existing plans were proportionate to the pollution problem. The judge dismissed this argument, saying “I reject any suggestion that the state can have any regard to cost in fixing the target date for compliance or in determining the route by which the compliance can be achieved where one route produces results quicker than another. In those respects the determining consideration has to be the efficacy of the measure in question and not their cost. (and) That, it seems to me, flows inevitably from the requirements in the Article to keep the exceedance period as short as possible.” This confirms Portsmouth is legally required to take decisive and rapid action to improve air quality to within legal limits as soon as possible.

According to Schedule 8 of the Air Quality Standards Regulations, air quality plans are to include “estimate of the improvement of air quality planned and of the expected time required to attain these objectives.” To achieve compliance within the shortest time, it is necessary to produce a list of scenarios, and model each based on effectiveness, confidence, speed of implementation, cost and political difficulty. The comparison will identify the most effective and rapid solution, which should then be selected. Without this exercise, Portsmouth City Council cannot claim they are “ensuring” compliance or if it will occur “as soon as possible”.

In the ClientEarth High Court case, it was generally recognized that a clean air zone is among the most effective and rapid ways to reach compliance. Therefore, if Portsmouth plans to achieve legal compliance, it needs to include this option as one of the modelled scenarios. While the modelling exercise is necessary, it is unlikely any other solution will achieve the local authority’s legal obligations, so I call on the council to seriously consider a clean air zone for some or all of the city. While these measures will be difficult to achieve, it is vital for the good of public health.

For more information, please see the Let Pompey Breathe Blog, which can be easily found using a search engine. Thank you for your time.

Kimberly of Keep Milton Green then spoke:

Currently, nitrogen dioxide and particulates (PM2.5 and PM10) are a cause of concern in Portsmouth. Most nitrogen dioxide comes from traffic, particularly diesel cars, lorries and buses. Air pollution has been linked to a number of serious health conditions, including cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity and changes linked to dementia. The situation has been described by some MPs as a public health emergency.

Health concerns should be an important thought when it comes to the consequences of poor air quality in a congested city. COPD (Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease) is the 4th most frequent cause of death in Portsmouth and we have a significantly higher rate of premature mortality due to respiratory disease and of premature mortality considered preventable. COPD early death in Portsmouth is significantly worse than the England average and these rates tend to come from the city’s most deprived and poor areas where life is already hard.

Maximum permissible pollution levels are specified in UK law and are called the National Air Quality Objectives. Many local authorities, including Portsmouth, have been in breach since the rules were introduced in 2010 for nitrogen dioxide. The situation is particularly bad in North End and Fratton along the London Road-Kingston Road-Fratton Road corridor, and also in Lord Montgomery Way by the University. Meeting these air quality objectives as soon as possible is a legal requirement for Portsmouth City Council. However, in North End, nitrogen dioxide levels are actually getting worse.

On a personal level, my youngest son caught bronchitis when he was less than 6 months old which did mean a scary trip to the hospital and has left him with some health concerns and the potential of asthma developer as he grows up. This means for us, frequent trips to the doctor and hospital for his hearing issues as well as frequent chest infections and other issues. For us, this means walking through heavily congested areas such as the junction of Velder avenue, Rodney Road and Milton road with traffic idling. It is absolutely awful to hear him coughing and gasping for air whilst walking through the areas, particularly if he is already ill with a chest infection and struggling without the added toxic air.

Although the Council is reporting Pollution levels are reducing, in 3 of the last 4 months of reporting on AQMA 9 in 2016 nitrogen dioxide levels exceeded safe levels if annualised and in January 2017 the NO2 level was over 50 µg/m3. The current proposal seems short-term and a longer-term coherent plan to reduce human, and especially children’s, exposure to air pollution is what’s needed. Take for example the School-place deficit solution. We have been told that the Council is proposing to expand school-places at Portsmouth Academy where pollution levels breach national safety limits whereas a more sensible option, albet more expensive, would be to build a new school in an environmentally safer location.

The roads in and around the city centre are known to be congested at peak times. Portsmouth City council has proposed a City Centre Road Scheme to increase road capacity. While this scheme claims to promote sustainable transport, it is still too centred on private car usage. According to the scheme’s environmental statement, it will also worsen pollution city wide by 3.4% and will increase polluted air to above legal limits in Commercial Road shopping precinct. The scheme is also unlikely to solve congestion as it will simply relocate it to other areas nearby. Without a major redesign, this scheme should be rejected.

Although disputed by PCC, Portsmouth Friends of the Earth kindly provided an air quality monitor near to Milton Park School which provided the worrying results of levels of pollution of up to 39.7 µg/m3 (please bear in mind that toxic levels are 40 µg/m3 and above!). This is right near to a school with children walking to and attending from the age of 3 right up to 11 years old. This is the air that our children are breathing on a daily basis. This is why Keep Milton Green, the Milton Forum and the Milton Neighbourhood planning team support the Let Pompey Breathe petition.

Portsmouth needs a long-term and coherent strategy to reduce exposure to pollution especially for children. The CCR Scheme requires redesigning immediately with a greater emphasis on sustainable transport to reduce car-dependency. Greater priority should be restored for pedestrians and cyclists at road crossings.

So therefore, as well as being here to support this petition for the 3 Milton groups, I am here for a purely selfish reason. I am here in the hope that this is the beginning of a big change in Portsmouth in regards to air quality but also, in the hope that my children, yours and others across the city will not have to breathe in these toxic fumes on the way to visit a doctor, on their way to school or just being healthy and out and about. We owe our children that and to try to prevent more early deaths, so please consider this petition.

The administration’s response, passed by a unanimous vote of PCC after the debate:

The Council sincerely thanks Mr Tim Sheerman-Chase for submitting the petition to PCC and further raising awareness of air pollution.

PCC recognises the unquestionable public health benefits associated with improving air quality. Air quality is a significant public concern and Portsmouth City Council (PCC) commits to reducing air pollution in Portsmouth to ensure compliance with all legal limit and target values and to work towards achieving World Health Organization guidelines in the shortest possible time.

PCC is actively working on an update to the Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) and the 2018 progress report contained with the 2018 Annual Status Report (ASR) which will identify actions aimed at reducing levels of air pollution in Portsmouth.

Whist PCC is focusing on all pollution hotspot locations and areas of concern, particular attention is being given to targeting improvements within AQMA6 (Fratton Road / Kingston Road / London Road corridor) as it is within this central corridor where exceedances of the EU and National Air Quality Objectives (NAQO) for nitrogen dioxide are still occurring.

In delivering solutions, we will continue working with Defra on a targeted feasibility study to identify interventions which will promote improvements to air quality within AQMA 11 (Mile End Road corridor) in the shortest possible time. However, in line with our own identified local needs, we have already commissioned an extension to this targeted feasibility study to focus on AQMA 6. Both of these two studies will help to inform the development of a new city-wide AQAP to continually improve pollution levels.

Over the last few years the City Council has significantly increased the number of sites within the city where air quality is monitored. This has allowed the City Council to be able to have real readings for the air quality at the southern end of Mile End Road and be able to show the projections by the Government of air pollution in his location is significantly lowering reality than the Government projections. Further down the road into the city there are no active data points and we will need to introduce them here, so we can find out if the Government figures are right.

Perversely the area of main concern to the City Council – the area north of Kingston Crescent up to Stubbington Ave, is not highlighted by Government. To help public transparency on this issue I have asked the City Council to show on its webpages the map of where all the air quality testing stations are, and the results from each of these. This has been done and I am for the readings to be kept up to date and public so we can monitor progress towards being within both UK/EU legal limits and also WHO limits by the end of 2020 or earlier.

A critical part in the development in the AQAP is consultation and communication with our key stakeholders as tis will enhance the legitimacy and effectiveness of our decision making processes. A Steering Group involving residents’ groups, interest groups, key employers and transport operators has been established to guide the development of the AQAP. Invitations to the first meeting, to take place later in July, have been sent. PCC commit to completing the action planning process by the end of December 2018. Thereafter actions will be quantified and appropriately delivered.

In respect to WHO compliance, our monitoring shows that in 2017 levels in 4 out of the 5 AQMA’s are achieving compliance with the annual average NAQO for nitrogen dioxide. We know that only 1 AQMA, AQMA 6, is currently exceeding the NAQO and the WHO guideline levels as these standards are numerically the same.

PCC is currently meeting the WHO annual average PM10 guideline values at all 4 of its monitoring locations and, whilst the monitoring annual average levels at out 3 monitored sites for PM2.5 are close to the guideline, we acknowledge the fact we are not meeting them and so continue to commit to achieving these as quickly as possible.

The Council acknowledges the actions that the Administration has taken and what action the Cabinet is planning in respect to improving air quality.

Proposed Councillor Ashmore

Seconded Councillor Vernon-Jackson

First to speak in the debate was the former Environment Cabinet member, Councillor Robert New:

First thing to say is a big well done to Dave [Ashmore] for inheriting this. Where the intrastructure of this city is so old, the width of the roads and the congestion, etc, it’s very difficult in dealing, in the short term, with many of these issues and it’s very much a long term goal. I welcome lots of things I’ve heard here today.

I thought it was really important to thank the officers who are working on this, because it requires a joined up approach and its happening though this city council. It’s continuing under this administration. I wanted to say a special thanks to Richard Lee [unaudible], and also to Pam [Turton] and Martin Lavers, who are working hard on this directly with DEFRA. They have far more sopisticated monitoring equipment than environmental groups have, so I understand where some of the friction comes from and people are skeptical. But please do believe us, and I think I speak on behalf of everyone here that they are doing everything they can within realistic time scales to ensure that we do have better air quality. And I think it’s a very small team doing a lot, working with government, working will all politicians, and we should thank them.

Then Councillor Matthew Winnington, Cabinet Member for Health, Wellbeing and Social Care:

I’d like to thank the petitioners for bringing the petition before us. I signed the petition myself. I think it is a really good one to see [for] the councillors today and I think the response we got has full support across the council, as Councillor New has just said. I’d like to say, with my hat on as the Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, obviously good air quality is important for people’s wellbeing and people’s health. What we can do to involve local residence, local groups into this, I think is going to be really good, I’m looking forward to having our air quality action plan being sorted by the end of the year. And go forwards and make it as good as it possibly can be, so not just for the next 12 months but much further into the future, we are going to have air quality in this city that is much better for everyone.

Then Councillor Ben Dowling, Cabinet Member for Planning, Regeneration and Economic Development:

I want to share a couple of things with members that some people are aware of, others aren’t. Myself, councillor Stagg and councillor Ashmore invited the team from Let Pompey Breathe campaign into the council last week. They met with ourselves and senior officers relevant in terms of air pollution. And that meeting was primarily to start a dialog. The Let Pompey Breathe campaign had specific concerns around the City Centre Road Scheme that is currently with planning. [inaudible]

I’ve taken away an action that I properly look at the air pollition side of the City Centre Road scheme. But one of the other actions that came out of it was around publishing all of our data with the guidelines along side them. So currently if you look at how we publish things, we publish them with only the EU levels. But we have now said we will publish alongside the WHO guidelines as well. That makes for easier comparison, with three lines on a graph instead of two. Or three columns in a table instead of two. Hopefully that should make things a bit more transparent as well.

Councillor Luke Stubbs, Deputy Group Leader for the Conservatives:

Just one or two words that have not come out in the debate. In terms of the City Centre Road, the whole point of that scheme is to drive economic growth and economic development. And yes, economic growth and economic development does mean more vehicle movements. That is partly having a population increase, we’ve got to accomadate extra housing growth somewhere, and the city centre is the natural place to do that. And also, if we want the shopping centre to improve, if we want extra office jobs in the city centre, that is going to generate some vehicle movements. That is going to be a trade off, you can’t be absolutist on this. If you’re just going to say we are not going to have economic growth unless it has no impact on the environment and people are going to have to cycle, we are not going to get the growth. So I think we have to be very mindful of what the trade-off is.

Councillor Dave Ashmore, Cabinet Member for Environment and Community Safety, summed up:

I’ve very heartened to see that everyone is happy with that and on board with that. It’s very good going forward, obviously it’s a very important subject. And my predicessor councillor Rob New is right we should be thanking the officers for that and their hard work they put into this. And we have a good working relationship [inaudible] I hope we can have a good working relationship and we can do this cross party. Thank you very much to Let Pompey Breathe, and everyone, for bringing the petition so we can have this debate about air quality in the city and we’ve all had our say.

While PCC has taken some steps in tackling the problem, it is difficult to have confidence in their approach when they have not yet published a timetabled plan to reach compliance and we have not made significant progress in years. More analysis coming soon.