Portsmouth needs a Clean Air Zone to tackle our air pollution problem because the City Council has been unable to propose an effective alternative. Councillor Vernon-Jackson claims that a charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ) will hit hardest the poorest families in Portsmouth. #LetPompeyBreathe argues that a CAZ will have greatest health benefit for the poorest in our city.
Don’t forget the harm caused by air pollution
In 2017 DEFRA explained that “Air pollution predominantly affects those living in our major towns and cities due to the concentration of vehicles and other sources of pollution. This continues to have an unnecessary and avoidable impact on people’s health, particularly amongst the elderly, people with pre-existing lung and heart conditions, the young, and those on lower incomes“
In March this year Public Health England reported “air pollution… is the largest environmental risk to the public’s health in the UK with estimates of between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths each year attributed to human-made air pollution.”
In Parliament on 1 May this year Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Gove stated “The environment belongs to us all” and Jeremy Corbyn pointed out that “Working-class communities suffer the worst effects of air pollution …. Children should not have to pay with their health for our failure to clean up our toxic air.” Baroness Jones of the Green Party has campaigned for clean air to be a human right saying “Air Pollution is a public health emergency responsible for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths” London Mayor Sadiq Khan has explained “Tackling toxic air pollution is about saving lives. Every year thousands of Londoners die prematurely, or contract horrific illnesses and diseases because of pollution. But it’s also a fundamental issue of social justice, because those who suffer most from toxic air are the poorest Londoners who have the fewest cars“.
PCC’s Air Quality Strategy refers to 95 deaths each year in Portsmouth attributable to air pollution. Alternatively, this can be expressed as “Air pollution from man-made particles is currently estimated to reduce average UK life expectancy (from birth) by six months“. This figure refers to the harm caused by solely one type of air pollutant, small particulates PM2.5 (such as emitted by diesel vehicles).
Just over 2 years ago, 72 people died in the Grenfell Tower tragedy. If in Portsmouth we had 95 people dying every year in a tower block fire there would be a national outcry. But our political leaders seem strangely quiet on the appalling statistic of an estimated 95 people dying in Portsmouth every year from just one type of air pollution. We would like Councillor Vernon-Jackson to affirm that people’s health is his top priority.
A Clean Air Zone will give most benefit to the poorest in Portsmouth
There is convincing evidence that a CAZ will benefit poorest families the most. The most recent national census in 2011 showed that the poorest families in Portsmouth endure the worst levels of air pollution, the lowest levels of car ownership and the highest levels of urban deprivation (employment, education, health & disability, and housing). Replacing polluting modes of travel with sustainable alternatives will improve air quality, which together with more active travel will greatly improve public health.
For example, Charles Dickens ward is on the border of the highly polluted Fratton Road and Kingston Road (AQMA6) and in this ward 63 per cent of households have no access to a car or van. People who already can’t afford a car aren’t in a position to ‘upgrade’ to an emissions-compliant vehicle. Instead, nearly two-thirds of these city centre residents have no option but to walk, wait for a bus or cycle in highly polluted streets, all the time breathing in the harmful traffic fumes produced by others. A charging CAZ is expected to provide a rapid reduction in air pollution. Everyone in Portsmouth will benefit from cleaner air but the health improvements will be greatest for those who can’t afford cars anyway.
Professor Paul Cosford, Director of Health Protection and Medical Director for Public Health England, believes that actions to reduce air pollution do not run counter to economic growth and development; rather, there is an opportunity for better air quality and economic prosperity to go hand in hand.
Don’t blame DEFRA for PCC’s lack of action to tackle air pollution
DEFRA is likely to impose a CAZ in Portsmouth in order to achieve the legal and moral imperatives of delivering clean air for everyone in the shortest possible time. This bold measure is the consequence of PCC’s long-term failure to take effective action. Many of the measures planned by the Council in recent years have been too little, too late, with little evidence of their effectiveness before introduction and with minimal effort to quantify the effectiveness once they have been introduced. Measures are seemingly designed more to create a smokescreen of activity instead of focusing on the necessary measurements of the effectiveness of actions to deliver clean air to benefit everyone in our city. The levels of NO2 around the city have been approximately constant for the last 6 years despite directives since 2010 requiring swift action. The Council should not try to blame central government for the need for a CAZ when many of the causes are the Council’s ineffective actions.
What needs to change
- We need our political leaders in all parties to admit that previous measures by both administrations to reduce air pollution have been inadequate.
- Our councillors must demonstrate leadership in championing the radical measures needed to deliver clean air.
- Councillors need to show courage in giving people the stark truth that we must end the car-centric priority in our city and scrap the assumption that in our congested city there is a need to plan for increased capacity for private car travel.
- Portsmouth should become a place where it is more attractive not to use a car and people prefer to use public transport or active travel.
- There is a great opportunity for Portsmouth to attain cleaner air, better public health and boost economic prosperity, but only if our councillors and senior council officers have vision and give leadership.
- A CAZ will provide the necessary impetus to accelerate the long-overdue improvements to the active travel network to provide safe, convenient and attractive walking and cycling routes, and to deliver greater investment in reliable, clean and cheap public transport.
- Businesses may need support to introduce sustainable transport options.