I spoke that the East Southsea Neighbourhood forum giving residents an update on NO2 levels and effective measures to tackle pollution. Dave Ashmore, who oversees Environment and Climate Change at the council spoke before me and we had a good (but brief) discussion with the audience and Gerald Vernon-Jackson (leader of Portsmouth City Council).
An audience member asked Dave if a Clean Air Zone was likely to be introduced. His response:
I’d like to be able to say we will have it sorted by then [2021?]. I’ve got to worry about it. I can’t sit here and lie to people. Obviously, it will be up to the government. They are the ones who will impose it on us. We had the plans; we requested the funds from government. We requested from government to help with all the things like electric vehicles, like the free public transport, like for the scrappage scheme. We have not heard anything back. Make of that what you will. This is something that the government will be in charge of.
He is right that Portsmouth needs more resources to tackle air pollution. However, I think their plans are best as a compliment to a charging CAZ, not as an alternative solution. On their own, they won’t bring us into compliance as quickly as possible.
There have been loads of small studies done about pollution for inside car vs. outside car, with varying results. But in general, provided you take certain precautions, you are much better off cycling and walking, rather than being in a car. This BBC summary is pretty good and includes a case study of what to expect alongside busy roads vs quiet roads. So the moral of this tale is – when cycling and walking – always take routes that avoid busy roads, especially idling traffic, whenever possible.
Bear in mind that newer diesel cars have filters fitted to remove particulates, but the computer won’t switch it on until the engine has reached a certain temperature. So, on a cold day, by the time you’ve got to the school gate and returned home it might just have switched on. So short journeys are absolutely the worst thing about diesel engines, even Euro 6 standard, because of this. The school run in a car is probably the most polluting thing you can do to yourself, the occupants of your car and those on the pavement.
The motion that was passed by Portsmouth City Council yesterday:
Proposal to Declare a Climate Emergency in Portsmouth
Proposed by Councillor Judith Smyth
Seconded by Councillor Thomas Coles
We are in the middle of a climate emergency which poses a threat to our health, our planet and our children’s and grandchildren’s future. (Sadiq Khan London Mayor)
The UK exceeded the scientifically agreed safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere (350ppm) sometime in the late 1990s. Since then we have been gambling with the lives of future generations and other species. Today we have reached the point where, even if we stopped all production of fossil fuelled cars, buses, trains, ships and planes and built no more gas or coal power stations, we would still only have a 64% chance of keeping below the 1.5°C target agreed in Paris in 2015.
In Portsmouth we have very high levels of air pollution on some streets where people live, cycle and walk exposing people to dangerous chemicals. Children are particularly vulnerable. We have also had several breaches to sea defences and are vulnerable to flooding.
48 UK local authorities have declared a climate emergency including Cornwall, the Forest of Dean, Bristol, Lambeth, Nottingham, Lancaster, Brighton and Hove, and Milton Keynes. 72 cities around the world have also declared a climate emergency committing resources to address this emergency.
A climate emergency declared by a local authority can be a powerful catalyst for community wide action when paired with a clear action plan. There is no time to waste if we are to avoid the consequences of a rise in global warming above 1.5°C.
We propose that Portsmouth City council asks the Cabinet to Declare a Climate emergency to give a compelling lead to citizens, businesses and other partners of the urgency to reduce our carbon footprint to zero by 2030.
Portsmouth City council has started this journey. CO2 emissions in Portsmouth have reduced from 1243.5 kilotons in 2005 to 817.9 kilotons in 2016 and the City council has recognised that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change further reductions are needed. Several separate initiatives are underway. For example, electric car charging points, tree planting, investment in the new plastics recycling plant required to recycle more plastics jointly with Hampshire and Southampton by constructing a new Integra plant and the ‘cough, cough’ campaign together with reduction of carbon footprint of council premises and services.
However, this is somewhat disjointed and too slow. What is needed is action. Working with local business and other partners we need to develop and agree an ambitious city-wide strategy and clear action plans leading to rapid action which is openly monitored, well led and well governed. We need to enthuse and involve citizens, including young people, in generating ideas and support for green policies, plans and action. We can lead the way as a Green City.
Portsmouth City council will ask the Cabinet to:
1. Declare a ‘Climate Emergency’ then ask partners to sign up including local business, schools and community groups.
2. Pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the Portsmouth by 2030, considering, both production and consumption of emissions according to the Standard provided by the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol.
3. Require the Leader of the Council to report back to the Council within six months with an action plan, detailing how the Council will work with partners across the City and with central government to ensure that Portsmouth’s net carbon emissions (Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions as defined by the GHG Protocol) are reduced to zero by 2030.
4. Provide an annual report on Portsmouth GHG emissions, what is working and what is more challenging and progress towards achieving net zero-carbon emissions.
5. Require the Chief Executive to establish a ‘Portsmouth Climate Change Board’ before the end of July 2019, equivalent to that of Manchester, to underpin our efforts to decarbonise Portsmouth.
6. Write to the government requesting (a) additional powers and funding to make the 2030 target possible and (b) that ministers work with local government and other governments to ensure that the UK maximizes carbon reduction by 2030 in line with the overriding need to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C.
7. Develop and implement a community engagement plan to i) fully inform residents about the need for urgent action on climate change ii) offer a vision of a healthier, more child friendly and greener city that is a model of best practice iii) mobilise residents in the delivery of the action plan.
This motion covers “scopes 1, 2 and 3” for Portsmouth, which basically covers all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the city (including transport), GHG from grid supplied energy and GHG outside the city that are the result of activity in a city (“transmission and distribution losses associated with grid-supplied energy, and waste disposal and treatment outside the city boundary and transboundary transportation”). That is very comprehensive. We are looking at a complete decarbonization by 2030. It will take very ambitious measures to reach this goal – presumably including a fossil fuel vehicle ban, replacement of heating systems and local wind power generation. This in turn will require massive investment in public transport and electric vehicles, and make a CAZ look like a walk in the park!
Looking at the new air quality leaflet to be distributed to all homes in Portsmouth, there is quite a startling statement about how discussions with DEFRA are going:
However analysis shows the measures we are looking at won’t improve the situation as quickly as the government wants, but we’re continuing to work with them to try to find new solutions.
Basically Portsmouth City Council has been told to go “back to the drawing board”. PCC needs to take the issue seriously. From today’s Air Quality Steering Group meeting, they certainly are talking about adopting more radical steps. However, I spoke to Gerald Vernon-Jackson (head of the council) and he was strongly anti-Clean Air Zone. I don’t think this is appropriate since I doubt that the council will be able to identify any package of measures that are as effective as a CAZ (as they are required to do). Without analysis of the alternatives, it is far too early to rule out a CAZ. In fact, a CAZ on its own is unlikely to be sufficient. Any air quality measures will be an important stepping stone towards the zero carbon target. In turn, measures for reducing GHG are likely to help improve air quality.
Letter outlining the situation and what needs funding.
I am writing to you about the ministerial directive on air quality which Portsmouth City Council has received.
My understanding is that we received this ministerial direction to produce a plan to improve air quality because of concerns in the Defra modelling about the air quality at the end of the motorway spur into Portsmouth (M275) and then further on the roads towards Unicorn Gate – an access point into the Naval dockyard
The city council has dramatically increased the number of air sampling points in the city and our initial reading were that the actual results at the end of the M275 were significantly lower than the modelling had suggested. we were though very concerned about an area not identified by Defra which is the Fratton Road/London Road central route the the middle of the island, that the city council’s monitoring here suggested that there was a problem with air pollution and we have been working to produce a plan to rectify this.
I am sorry to have to tell you that the readings that we now have for last year show significantly increased areas of air pollution around the city and we therefore need to look at a much wider and much more radical plan to reduce air pollution. There is the possibility that the readings this year may have been affected by atmospheric conditions but we don’t know and we need to plan. I am very concerned about the possibility of an imposition of a Clean Air Zone on Portsmouth and the increased cost this would load onto both the individual and onto businesses in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is a city with economic challenges and for both families and for businesses the extra cost of a Clean Air Zone could be hugely damaging.
I would therefore like to ask for your support in looking at alternative measures to be able to reduce air pollution and therefore remove the need for a Clean Air Zone. The areas I would ask for your help with may be expensive but I would hope that the government would look to fund these to be able to get the dramatic reduction in air pollution that the ministerial directive expects. I understand that the new burdens doctrine applies and therefore we should be looking to the government for funding.
A significant proportion of the air pollution comes from traffic and therefore we need to look at what we can do to significantly reduce this and give people an incentive to use non-car based travel. Some of the suggestions I have heard are as follows:-
1) A free bus pass for each resident of the city all day, every day, to encourage people onto buses and out of their cars. 2) The creation of a trolley bus system like that operatives in our twin city of Caen, as there seems to be a much higher usage of tram and trolley bus systems than of buses. 3) Investment to convert the taxi and private hire fleet operating within Portsmouth to an entirely electric fleet. 4) That Portsmouth receives the same level of government subsidy to encourage people to cycle that is received by the London boroughs/TFL. 5) We would like to look at a transfer station where lorries bringing loads into the city can drop off their loads which are then taken in by electric cabs. 6) The government is currently increasing the number of house completions it expects from Portsmouth from around the 430 houses/flats that we currently complete to around 830 per annum. This is clearly completely incompatible with having to significantly reduce air pollution and I would ask for Portsmouth to be relieved of any housing target so we do not make the air pollution situation any worse. 7) We also need to look at the effect that shipping has both in the commercial ferry port and in Portsmouth Naval Base on these air quality figures and to work with the ship owners on a strategy to reduce this level of pollution. 8) A car scrappage scheme targeted at families on the lowest incomes who often have the most pollution vehicles but the least money to replace them with something modern with low emissions. 9) We would also like to be able to run our own bus service and to have a local bus depot to reduce the pollution of buses having to drive into Portsmouth from Fareham.
We would be very happy to work with you to try to find way in which we can have a dramatic effect in reducing air pollution.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson CBE, Leader of the Council
I’m not sure the measures listed will actually solve the air quality problem but they will provide a means to get around the city by public transport, which is a good start.
Oh yes, the city council declared a climate emergency and to go zero carbon by 2030. This will have a huge impact on air quality.
We are asking for the cost of bus passes to be covered because we know that many people say they don’t use public transport due to the cost.
Depending on how much funding is allocated, this is either the start of cheaper bus travel [UPDATE: this would be for everyone!] or a precursor to the council saying “DEFRA forced us to implement a clean air zone”.
The council are ignoring my calls for the draft air quality plans to be published. This is important for public accountability, particularly since the plans will have a large impact on people living and working in the city.
While subsiding public transport is not the most effective way to improve air quality (according to the PHE report), it is very good at addressing social inequalities caused by further restrictions on private car use. Bus subsidies are not enough on their own, so I expect further restrictions on private car use.
One point of concern is that the council mention £8 fee for entering a future clean air zone – perhaps that should be dependent on the type of fuel the car uses, and the age of the vehicle? Older diesels are quite bad for air quality.
In other news,
Air pollution kills 1.6 million more people a year globally than smoking, research suggests. In the UK, 64,000 deaths in 2015 have been linked to air pollution, including 17,000 fatal cases of heart and artery disease
This is doubling of the World Health Organization’s previous estimates. This underscores the need for firmer action is needed to tackle air pollution.
I’m going to the protest to support the climate emergency motion going through the council today. I hope it gets through without being watered down!
PS Two journalists mentioned that 16 sites are above the legal limit, rather than the 4 from last year. This looks like a significant worsening.
PPS I’ve just seen a new council leaflet in air pollution. “Improving traffic flows” is probably counter productive since it increases the road capacity, which in turn increases private car use. The leaflet says even with their planned measures, they won’t be doing it as fast as the government wants – or should I say as fast as the law requires (“as quickly as possible”). It seems like they are priming the public to expect a clean air zone. This could be good if they do it well and target the most polluting vehicles.
PPPS An electric charging point has appeared in a lamp post near my house! The scheme is called SimpleSocket and has a ubitricity logo.
Together with representatives from Old Portsmouth and Milton neighbourhood forums, I raised concerns over Portsmouth City Council’s weak actions in tackling air pollution with our Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan. We described the city wide air pollution situation, as well as the secrecy and inconsistencies of PCC’s actions. One of the most troubling concerns is that PCC cannot give a straight answer to what traffic growth is expected in the next few years. If they say it is 5% per annum, their air quality plans are insufficient. If it is just 0.5%, there is no need for the city centre road scheme. Can PCC get its story straight?
Stephen Morgan seemed to take on the large quantity of information, and said it seems like a failure of governance at PCC, not just a capacity problem (caused by lack of resources). He said he would raise this in the house of commons as a question to the appropriate minister. He also expressed concern that the PCC planning department have been cut back so much as to only be able to be reactive to needs, not proactive.
He also mentioned that the full council is going to debate a motion to declare a climate emergency, if I understood him correctly. I will try to get confirmation.
The City Council leader recently stated “This Saturday [1st Decembter] is Small Business Saturday. We have many local small businesses and shops run by Portsmouth families and 1st December is all about celebrating how important they are to our communities and the city as a whole. To support the day, we’re making nearby council car parks free to use for the day! Please do consider going out to support your local high street.”
This is not helpful for air pollution or sustainable transport. The council needs to be encouraging public transport, cycling and walking rather than vehicles that cause congestion and pollution.
Steve Pitt (Culture and Leisure): Lynne, you are absolutely right first of all: there are too many cars on the island. It is a grave[?] situation. I know of a three bedroom house that’s got nine cars, which is absolutely ludicrous. So I’ve got three points. The first one is that there are solutions. 30% of all car journeys in the city centre, right around the world, are people looking for parking spaces. There are technological solutions to that. And I know the officers in Portsmouth City Council have known about at least one of these for at least four[?] years. So that is going to take people with an app to a parking space.
The second point is that in the future we are going to be going electric. Government policy includes[?] diesel/electric so that should solve a lot of the pollution problem. And the third point is that, again, in the future as we get more driverless vehicles, we are going to have fewer cars owned by individuals. Cars spend 90% of the time sitting at the inelastic roadside are [in future] going to be pick-up-and-go cars, that are going to be electrically driven, pollute less, and there will be far fewer on the road. So there is a good long term outcome and that is coming towards us a lot faster than predictions even three or four years ago.
Lynne Stagg: The parking scheme is called AppyParking. That really only applies to places where you pay for parking because you have to have the sensors in the road.
Audience member: You can do it with non-pay parking.
Lynne: Yes I think you can but [we are tackling it] bit by bit. We are putting electric charging points in. We have put in 50 so far. That again is a chicken and egg situation because as well as putting in electric charging points, they have to go in lamp posts because you can’t have trailing flexes into people’s houses. Those will be parking bays specifically only for electric charging of electric cars. But you have got to have enough people wanting electric vehicles, or buying them. They are not cheap. Nick [?] you’ve got one and they are not cheap are they, Nick?
Nick: Well they are not and they’ve reduced the subsidy.
Lynne: But the more people that get them, the prices will probably go down. So we are reacting as people are asking for them. We have the next list of those wanting to go in. And it’s specifically outside people’s houses or as close as possible, because obviously that is the most sensible thing. I don’t know what will happen if you have a whole street of electric cars but we will look at that as we go along, bit by bit. That is part of the grant, rolling it out as demand comes in.
Alec: I think it is important that Tim mentioned the harbour. That ships themselves are polluters, and therefore I think it would be a good idea to consider the shipping companies and the navy contributing something to this issue.
Lynne: That is already being done. The navy actually plug in. They put in this big electric cable about 18 months ago. So the naval ships aren’t. It’s the ferries, we are having difficulty persuading them, because the reason for that is swift turn around. They tend not to cut their engines because they come in and they’ve got about an hour or so, before they turn around. But we are certainly working with them.
Panellist: Not wishing to be rude, and thank you for doing this unannounced, there were some challenges by Tim. Do you know what year Portsmouth expects to come into legal compliance?
Lynne: 2021 for one of them and 2022 for the other, but I can’t remember which way round it is.
Panellist: And on what basis are you confident of that?
Steve Pitt: I got a briefing from environmental health about a week ago. Please do be assured that the council is going to be held very strongly to account for getting this right. It’s not something we can do, and say “we’ve done the best we can so that will have to do”. There are very, very strict guidelines being laid down by DEFRA, who is now sending a member of their department to Portsmouth every single week, to work with us on this plan. In January , we are expected to come up with a draft plan. If they do not believe it is credible, they can take control of how we manage vapours[?] in the city. If they do not believe in the full business case that we put together at the end of next year is credible, they have the ability to step in. So this is not something that a couple of people are working on to try and tinker around the edges. We are talking it deadly seriously. And we want to make sure that we hit those targets as soon as we can. The deadlines are 2021 and 2022, but if we can get them earlier then we need to do that. But in order to do that, we are going to have to make some very… clear choices around some of those things, for example, on there Tim you have Clean Air Zone. If we don’t do it [reach compliance], it won’t be a choice. That’s how clear this is. Will strong measures be considered in planning? That little list there, that’s not things that might happen, that’s things that DEFRA will do, in Portsmouth, to us, unless we get this right. So please don’t think that we are not taking this seriously, we have to take this deadly seriously. Apart from anything else, we don’t want people breathing air that’s not safe, obviously, because we live here too. We don’t live on a planet elsewhere and beam ourselves down to be councillors in Portsmouth. It’s our home as well. So we are really really clear that we will deliver this. The head of environmental health is working with a big group of officers in the council and we are having to draft in extra people to work on making sure we deliver this. It’s a serious thing and it has to be resolved.
Panellist: Tim, are you reassured? It sounds very convincing.
Tim: What has been said sounds quite interesting. I am definitely looking forward to the January report. So, yeah, fingers crossed. And thanks for filling in because DEFRA seems to get hung up on the wrong area. Thanks for clarifying that.
Lynne: Can I just say I used to teach geography and environmental studies, so I am very keen on improving the environment, right across the board. I’m back this 100%.
Matthew Winnington: I’m also on the cabinet. I’m the health, well-being and social care cabinet member and councillor for this area. So to add on the importance of what both Steve and Lynne have been talking about, because it is a knock on from this, it’s all very well for doing these things for clean air now but what it’s also about is the effects beyond the situation, in terms of people’s public health. So as the cabinet member in charge of public health, this is all feeding in to what we are doing as well. But in particular, one of the interesting things that has come out in terms of the research that has been going on, on the public health side, on the CCG on the hospitals[?] on the public health as well, is that actually a lot of areas in the city with the worst air pollution issues are also the areas with the worst obesity issues, for adults and children. So something that the council is bidding funding for, is actually to get [?] obesity and activity for children and adults. We should also have additional help for areas with high air pollution, because then we will have people going around, rather than getting a car or getting a taxi or whatever. They will actually be walking and cycling and getting about in a healthy way. Because that is going to have a really good outcomes in the future as well. One of the interesting things about air pollution in the city is that it is giving us a kick to do things in a more wholistic way. Which is about, “let’s get this air clean”, it’s also saying to us “it’s not just about that. Let’s try and help people so they are not in a situation that they are thinking about using polluting things in the first place.” They go about their business in a way that is better for them because it is going to keep them healthier, but also better for the environment because they are not going to be driving around in their cars. And as Lynne as said earlier, if we don’t do anything about cars in the city, we are going to have utter and complete gridlock. So those have to come done. But the best way to do that is by encouragement, and an even better way is for people to make the choice that they are happy to get around using other forms of transport, and keep themselves healthy, rather than “I’ll just go down the road an pick up the children and do my shopping in the car”. So, that’s some of the work that is going on at the edges, but that is really key to making sure we have something sustainable as well. Because otherwise we could just sort this thing out now and ten years down the line, we will just end up doing it all over again.
Audience member: [What would DEFRA do to us if we didn’t produce a credible plan?]
Steve Pitt: They would take control of the policy themselves. And that means instead of us having the ability to draw up a plan that we think works best for Portsmouth, they could do things, for example, enforce a clean air zone on the city. So it is in all of our interests to get this right and do a good job of it, because we need to make sure the decisions we take are also best, economically for Portsmouth, because the economy matters a lot as well to all of us. So the work is crucial. We don’t want DEFRA coming in and saying we are not happy with that, you have not done a good enough job of it, so we are going to take extreme action, we’ll say there’s no cars allowed down that stretch of road. They have that ability. The government are taking it seriously. DEFRA are taking it seriously. We are taking is seriously but we want to lead on it and come up with a plan that works best for the city, not having government agencies coming down here telling us what to do. [We have enough of that already.]