Let Pompey Breathe was invited to the first meeting of Portsmouth Air Quality Steering Group. Created by Portsmouth City Council to collect feedback on the air quality situation, it includes community groups, transport managers and PCC planners. Cabinet member members for environment and transport were also there. They aim to share local knowledge and contribute to the next air quality action plan. The compliance manager Richard Lee even said PCC aims to go beyond just reaching compliance and do continual improvement of air quality. This is very welcome it I am concerned that the political will to achieve this is lacking.

In the meeting, council officers claimed that Portsmouth was only out of compliance in one AQMA zone, along London Road. They probably saw the latest annual air quality report which stated:

The 2017 ASR results indicate that NO2 have exceeded the NAQO at 3 locations with in AQMA6 during 2017. No other exceedances of the NAQO, in any pollutant, have occurred.

This seems to ignore site 116 at the Catholic Cathedral on Alfred Road! In 2017, this site recorded 42.6 ug/m3, which is above the legal limit. Ignore data makes it seem like PCC is still in denial about the scale of the problem. UPDATE 27th July: PCC told me that this sites does not count because it is not a site “where members of the public might be regularly exposed” under the DEFRA guidance.

In discussions, either a holistic or focused approach could be used. The worst pollution is concentrated in a few areas, such as the bottom of Mile End Road, and the London Road corridor. The trouble with the focused approach is the causes and potential solutions involve the entire city. Some approaches can easily displace traffic from one neighbourhood to another. Also, the council seem to be focused too much on compliance in the worst areas, rather than trying to improve public health city wide.

In response to the High Court telling DEFRA to improve their air quality plan, they have asked Portsmouth City Council to perform a “Targeted Feasibility Study” to quickly reduce air pollution. DEFRA has strangely told PCC to focus on the Mile End Road area, which is odd since measured pollution is worse along London Road. PCC said DEFRA found Mile End Road is an area of concern based on computer modelling based on the EU’s Pollution Climate Model. It is rather strange that DEFRA is focusing on an area which seems to be (just) within compliance while ignoring an area that is above the legal pollution limit. This is particularly worrying since government funding often follows DEFRA guidance. DEFRA needs to be clear on how their plan will get PCC to achieve compliance in all areas by 2020/2021.

On the other hand, perhaps PCC monitoring along Mile End Road is deficient and there may be a pollution black spot that has remained undetected. The continuous monitoring station on Mile End Road (near Charles Dickens birthplace) is adjacent to a bus lane, which means the data is not acceptable by DEFRA.

Apparently DEFRA is not asking for a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) at this time, which makes it difficult for PCC to reach compliance as soon as possible.

It is unclear if the city centre road (CCR) scheme has been included in the DEFRA models, but it seems like they rely on national data, which is only approximate. Also, the model is apparently in 1km grid, which is relatively low resolution. DEFRA is concentrating on Mile End Road but it is only 500-800 metres from London Road. They seem to be focusing resources based on a model that can’t distinguish between these two areas.

The recent air quality grant to PCC will apparently fund a Portsmouth Clean Air Network. This will invite people to sign a pledge to improve air quality and will keep people informed of developments. This somewhat overlaps the mission of the blog but we welcome constructive competition!

The meeting split into three groups to discuss ideas for specific areas around the city. I raised the possibility of a city wide CAZ. We discussed ways to change people’s attitude to air quality measures. Putting adverts on Colas vehicles was suggested. Lynne Stagg thought it was appropriate to put messages to encourage people to use sustainable transport. I suggested using stronger language because of the national health emergency. Lynne Stagg said that would risk a panic and we should win hearts and minds to bring people along with PCC. I think that attitude is rather over-reacting, and the public needs to be better informed about the health risks they face.

I mentioned the problems with the city centre road scheme and how it increased pollution overall city wide. Lynne Stagg seemed surprised by this claim, which is worrying since she manages transport for the city. She emphasised that traffic will flow will improve in some areas, which is true. I pointed out the overall impact is still negative.

The steering group plans to meet again in several weeks, with the air quality action plan being published by PCC by the end of the year.

In short, it is good that PCC is listening to feedback. However, the PCC councillors don’t seem to recognize their legal obligations or how current plans are vague and insufficient. It is also worrying that DEFRA seems to be distracting from addressing the area of most concern. They need to help focus PCC’s attention on rapid effective solutions rather than distract efforts to less important matters.

PS One major issue we need to resolve is how do we measure if PCC is in compliance with air quality laws: using modelled or measured pollution levels?