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DEFRA directs Portsmouth to produce a “much more thorough assessment”

Latest from Air Quality News:

Ten local authorities have been directed to take further steps to address nitrogen dioxide emissions from road transport, under supplementary plans outlined by ministers today (5 Oct).

The councils – Dudley, Leicester, Newcastle-under Lyme, Portsmouth, Reading, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Solihull, Basingstoke and Deane, and South Gloucestershire – will have access to funding to implement measures including bus retrofits, improved road signalling and behavioural change campaigns. […] Defra has revealed today that eight of these 33 local authorities will carry out more detailed study outlining how they will tackle more persistent air quality problems they have identified, to be presented to government by 31 October 2019.

There is a corresponding statement from DEFRA. In it, they announces the new policy document that affects Portsmouth titled “Supplement to the UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations“. In one section, DEFRA provides their view of the recent targeted feasibility study done by Portsmouth City Council.

83. A combination of retrofitting buses to meet higher Euro emissions standards, reducing car use and promoting uptake of cleaner vehicles was modelled to bring forward compliance at Census ID 48196 from 2020 to 2019 and on Census ID 18114 from 2023 to 2022. [Both locations are at the bottom of the M275….]

88. The bus retrofit scheme is estimated to include approximately 100 buses and the local authority estimates that it could be delivered by the end of 2019. […]

89. Even with the bus retrofit, there is still a persistent exceedance with compliance projected to be by 2022. The government has therefore also directed Portsmouth City Council to carry out a more detailed study to develop a plan to bring forward compliance in the shortest possible time. The Direction requires that the local authority produce a final plan by 31 October 2019.

The bottom of the M275 will come into compliance with legal limits by 2022, according to modelling. However, local modelling shows a rather bleaker picture in the London/Kingston/Fratton Road corridor with no way to know if or when Portsmouth will come into compliance. The DEFRA report also doesn’t mention that the city centre road scheme that is expected to push some areas above the legal limit.

In response to the dire situation, DEFRA has instructed Portsmouth City Council to produce further plans by the end of October that will get air quality within legal limits “in the shortest possible time” as the law requires. Interestingly, they mention consideration of a Clean Air Zone (CAZ):

22. For some road links a more persistent exceedance has been identified where the road link is projected to become compliant in 2022 or beyond. For these road links more significant measures could be considered; for example, it is possible that a Clean Air Zone could be implemented. Whilst this measure may not be necessary or appropriate, it is necessary for these local authorities to carry out a much more thorough assessment of the air quality problem and the options available to bring forward compliance. The government has therefore further directed these local authorities to carry out a more detailed study to develop a plan to identify the most suitable measures to address the exceedance.

While DEFRA does not insist that a CAZ needs to be implemented, DEFRA now requires “much more thorough assessment of the air quality problem and the options available to bring forward compliance”, which is very welcome. Portsmouth must consider a Clean Air Zone, if they want to claim they did a “through” consideration of “significant measures”. This is what #LetPompeyBreathe has been calling for, for some time, and is one of the measures that has been so far ignored by Portsmouth City Council.

While DEFRA are moving in the right direction, they could use clearer language that told local authorities to take measures that are at least as effective as a CAZ (as required by the 2nd tier local authorities by the High Court). As a cross-committee report by MPs said (prior to the most recent air quality document):

The Government is failing to provide clear messaging and national leadership on the issue of charging Clean Air Zones (CAZ). Defra’s technical report found that charging zones offer the fastest and most effective route to air quality improvements, yet the 2017 plan requires councils to demonstrate that all other measures will fail to achieve the necessary results before introducing a charging zone. This lack of clarity is causing confusion and hampering councils’ ability to tackle air pollution as quickly as possible.[…] Defra’s modelling already shows that, in many cases, non-charging options will not be as swift or effective as charging Clean Air Zones. If local authorities are regularly exceeding NO2 concentration limits and identify a charging Clean Air Zone as being the most effective mitigation strategy, they should be able to receive Government support for implementing a CAZ without having to go to onerous lengths to demonstrate the inefficacy of other options. If this approach fails to deliver the required improvements as quickly as possible, the Government should consider mandating charging zones in hotspot areas.

The measures currently under consideration at PCC are too weak while a CAZ is a known effective solution. Please PCC, take the air quality situation seriously!

PS FAQ by Friends of the Earth on Clean Air Zones

Update: I just noticed DEFRA has given PCC over a year to produce a plan! That is hardly in line with the urgency of the situation. An initial plan is due by Jan 2019.