Southampton is planning to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in an effort to reduce air pollution. This is generally accepted to be the fastest and most reliable method to improve air quality. However, the Isle of Wight council has objected to the plans saying it would badly affect manufacturing and tourism.

This is a tricky problem because Southampton is one of the main routes to the Isle of Wight. If the charges go into effect, the cost will eventually be imposed on consumers and tourists. However, the people of Southampton (and Portsmouth) are exposed to traffic fumes, mainly from diesel cars and HGVs, of people traveling to the ferry terminal. Shipping itself also worsens air pollution, although Wightlink has just introduced a hybrid power ferry for the Portsmouth route.

I think what is important to remember is that the status quo is not sustainable. We can’t have tens of thousands of people (UK wide) dying each year from preventable causes. Yes, jobs may be lost but people will shop and do leisure activities more locally, which will create different jobs.

Also, the money generated from the CAZ should be (will be?) used to subsidize public transport, which will make getting around easier and more sustainable.

A problem for Portsmouth residents is that the most polluting vehicles will be threatened with the biggest charges, and be most incentivized to find another route. The most obvious route at this time is via Portsmouth. So we might be seeing the quantity of the most polluting vehicles increase in Portsmouth because of the Southampton clean air zone! This effect is called “displacement”. What we need is a charging CAZ in Portsmouth as well, to balance the scales.

In the long term, ferry ports constructed within major cities might need to be relocated (or existing ferries need to be low emission and only take cargo/passengers moved sustainably).

PS. 19th September, I’m going to the second air quality steering group at PCC.