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Quick News

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.

The next meeting of Portsmouth Extinction Rebellion is on 7th Jan. The group focuses on climate change and non-violent direct action. Background info to Extinction Rebellion:

Discussion with Portsmouth City Council, Part 2

Continuing from Part 1

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 [2019], 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.]

Analysis coming soon…

Photo by Menno

Unboxing of Flow air quality sensor by Plume Labs

Available here, Price: $179

#LetPompeyBreathe speaking at East Southsea Neighbourhood Forum

I’m speaking right before the leader of Portsmouth City Council. This is going to get interesting! 7pm, Thursday, November 22 , 2018, at the Royal Beach Hotel.

Clean-air campaigner Tim Sheerman-Chase runs the Let Pompey Breathe blog and a petition for cleanup action at Tim will give us the uncomfortable environmental perspective on our situation, how the city is increasingly choking up, and what consequences we may have to live with.

I’m also attending “Air pollution – time for change” with Hampshire Climate Network.

Impact of Charging Clean Air Zones: Saviour of Cities or a Red Herring?

Given the lack of progress by Portsmouth City Council in addressing air pollution, I began wondering how a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) might be implemented in the city and what effect it might have. There are several types of Clean Air Zones but most interest has been in charging older vehicles that enter busy areas. Since less polluting vehicles attract lesser or no charges, this intended to encourage a shift to less polluting vehicles. This has an impact on residents and businesses that have to replace their vehicles. The revenue from charges is typically invested in sustainable transport.

Arguably, this approach does not go far enough. As even the Portsmouth transport cabinet member says, “We simply have too many vehicles in this city“. Punitive prices could be used to quickly force a change in transport usage, but this is hardly going to be popular.

It is important to remember that our current transport situation is unsustainable. A significant chunk of pollution is created by diesel cars. To comply with air quality law, these vehicles need to be replaced. The question is how we go about doing that in a fair manner considering many people can barely afford the essentials. Studies have found that the economic benefits to health may outweigh the cost of updating vehicles. The necessity to act has already been established in the High Court and for the benefit of public health.

Predicting the impact of CAZ is complicated because people may switch to other forms of transport or cancel their trip completely. Local and national government often use computer models to try and predict the impact on air quality. Alternatively, we can look at how other cities have implemented CAZs however other air quality initiatives and different transport usages complicate the picture. DEFRA has presented a rosy picture of the effectiveness of CAZ. According to a 2017 DEFRA technical report:

From the options considered, establishing Clean Air Zones (CAZs) is the most effective way to bring the UK into compliance with NO2 concentration levels in the shortest possible time (Table Ex.3). […] CAZs are predicted to have their greatest impact on air quality in the year of implementation […], leading to an 18% reduction in NO2 concentrations. […] These projections have been produced from the SL-PCM model.

Birmingham has been told to implement a CAZ. Their projections are slightly less optimistic with a 9% NO2 reduction for a CAZ covering Buses, coaches, taxis, HGVs and LGVs (in jargon, a “class C-CAZ”), up to a 13% NO2 reduction in a CAZ that also covers private cars (“a class D-CAZ”). These are smaller but still significant improvements. However, these predictions don’t seem to match the experience cities that have already implemented similar zones. According to other DEFRA reports, CAZ projects around Europe have been effective in reducing particulate pollution but have a limited impact on NO2 levels. Germany has been most successful in reducing NO2 pollution using CAZ probably because their schemes include private cars. Outside of Germany, most CAZ schemes ignore private cars and have generally seen no NO2 improvements. Lisbon is also an exception which has reduced NO2 by 1-7% because they including private cars in their CAZ scheme. According to a review of CAZ schemes:

In German cities reductions in annual mean PM10 and NO2 concentrations up to 7% and 4% respectively due to the implementation of an LEZ have been reported. […] In other countries the picture is much more mixed with no effects [on NO2] generally being observed. This may be explained by the German LEZs restricting passenger cars, particularly diesel cars as well as HDVs.[Heavy Duty Vehicles …] Many of the studies, however, have used simple statistical methods that have not taken sufficient account of the confounding factors that affect urban air quality.

This finding is repeated in the London Low Emission Zone, which did not include cars in their scheme and have seen no appreciable drop in NO2. (London has recently started charging older vehicles which might help.) Similar results were seen in the Netherlands. A study of CAZ in Beijing, which only included light duty goods vehicles, predicted a fairly minor drop of 2% in NO2 levels.

In summary, Clean Air Zones are only effective in tackling NO2 levels if private cars are included in the charging scheme. This targets diesel cars, which are a major source of pollution in cities. Even if private cars are included, the impact of a charging CAZ may be less than predicted by current modelling. This might be due to different vehicle usage in the UK compared to European cities, but I doubt that is significant enough to account for the discrepancy. Portsmouth needs about a 10% drop in NO2 to come into legal compliance.

Given that we need a strong tool to improve air quality, we can look at cities that have banned older diesel vehicles. Older diesel bans are being introduced in some London neighbourhoods, as well as several German cities. We should watch their progress closely to see if improvements can be achieved elsewhere.

Isle of Wight Objects to Southampton Charging Clean Air Zone

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.

Anti-Idling Signs To Reduce Pollution Outside Schools

Tracey designed these rather awesome anti-idling signs for use outside schools. This is to encourage parents doing their school run to switch off their engines while waiting. This should reduce pollution for children (and adults!) entering and leaving the school gates.

High quality PDF file: LPBidlingfreezoneV2

While “Stationary idling is an offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988″, it is a common habit and it is difficult to inform drivers about this issue. The act enforces rule 123 of the Highway Code “You MUST NOT leave a parked vehicle unattended with the engine running or leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road. Generally, if the vehicle is stationary and is likely to remain so for more than a couple of minutes, you should apply the parking brake and switch off the engine to reduce emissions and noise pollution. However it is permissible to leave the engine running if the vehicle is stationary in traffic or for diagnosing faults.”

Traffic & Transportation Cabinet Member Encourages Cycling

Apart from speaking at Portsmouth Cycle Forum, I was also in the audience when Lynne Stagg was also speaking as the city council Cabinet Member for Traffic & Transportation Lynne Stagg. She said some sensible things about encouraging cycling including:

  • She would like to see fewer cars on the road
  • Portsmouth City Council funding from central government has been cut making changes or improvements difficult.
  • She plans to create a strategy for all forms of transport
  • Eastern road upgrade is in progress
  • The East West active route will run along Goldsmith Avenue. (The annual air report says it will run though AQMAs 6, 7 and 12 which is along Queens Road, south of Guildhall Square, Fratton Bridge. £245k is planned for “Physical improvements to key travel routes to improve permeability and encourage use of active travel modes, making walking and cycling more attractive forms of travel. To include greening of routes and tree planting and other public realm where possible”)
  • Contraflow cycling (cycling in the opposite to one way motor traffic) divides opinions of cyclists. It also only can be used if the road wide enough.
  • The council is trialling a cycling near miss reporting tool. This is used for planning safety improvements and they need more data. (News report.)
  • The possibility of using Fratton rail goods yard for transporting goods into Portsmouth without using HGVs, then loading them on to electric vehicles has been mentioned. This is only at the idea stage.
  • Kingston’s Crescent to Stubbington Avenue is a particular area of concern. However if a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is proposed, the local ward councillors probably (loudly) oppose it.

PCF is also trialling free membership to attract a wider base of cyclists. They plan to fund themselves by donations.

PS. Shout out to our friends at Zero Waste Portsmouth!

Clean Air Day, 21st June

Today is Clean Air Day. We handed in first batch of ~1150 signatures for the air quality petition to Portsmouth City Council – well done everyone! We will keep collecting them to keep pressure on!

I’m (Tim) speaking later today at Portsmouth Cycle Forum Open Meeting, Starts at 19:00, duration is 02:00 hours, Lecture Theatre 2 of the Richmond Building

As it’s @cleanairdayuk we welcome #letpompeybreathe campaign organisers to present details and facts about their campaign.

New Traffic & Transport Cabinet member Lynne Stagg will also be present to discuss the new Lib Dem administration’s approach to cycling and their plans to implement #ACitytoShare

Another reminder that our next open meeting is at 7.00pm Thursday 21st June at the University of Portsmouth Richmond…

Posted by Portsmouth Cycle Forum on Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Update: Slides from PCF presentation .odt, .pdf

2017 NO2 levels draft report published but figures misinterpreted

Big news: we have around 1200 signatures for our air quality petition. We should be able to hand in what we have so far to the city council on Clear Air Day (21st June).

News about air quality is arriving thick and fast! It’s hard to keep up some times. However, this post is going to focus on what has claimed to be news, but actually isn’t. The latest NO2 levels have been published in draft form. This has lead to reporting in The News saying:

…in the past 12 months there have been significant improvements recorded, with two-thirds of the island’s 28 monitor stations showing cleaner air compared to 11 per cent the year before.

The errors in this statement are many but subtle. The first thing to remember is that pollution levels not only depend on emission of pollution, but also on weather patterns. Each year the wind blows in different directions for varying amounts. This makes the entire regions pollution levels increase or decrease in a broadly similar way. This becomes clear if we look at the average city wide NO2 levels for the last 6 years:

While each year the level changes, the levels have actually stayed around 32μg/m3 throughout. While the 2017 level is slightly below, this is not outside of the typical natural variation due to weather. The emission levels could be thought of as a “signal” while the effect of weather could be considered as “noise”. Although it is certainly possible that emission levels have changed, the change is within the range caused by natural weather fluctuations. This means we can’t say if the slight reduction seen in 2017 is due to weather or emissions. While we welcome favourable weather, this is not a long term solution and does not make enough of a difference.

Another problem is reporting that “two-thirds of the island’s 28 monitor stations showing cleaner air”. Since all the monitoring stations are subjected to the same weather, and that weather effects have a similar or greater effect than changes to emissions, we would expect most monitoring stations to show a change in the same direction from year to year. The exact proportion tells us almost nothing about the air quality situation in Portsmouth.

Some people might remember the game show “Play Your Cards Right“. The game involves guessing if a hidden card has a higher or lower value than the previously drawn random card. The average numerical value of a card is 7, so if the previous card was a 10 it is usual to choose lower. If the previous card was a 2, the contestant should pick higher.

Similarly, if an NO2 reading is particularly high in one year (as it was in 2016, and subject to noise like weather effects), we would expect a lower value the following year (which it was in 2017). (This might be a form of regression toward the mean but I’m still trying to understand the concept.) The only way around this, apart from somehow accounting for the effect of weather, is to wait for additional data in subsequent years.

On the other hand, some individual sites show large changes. I am hesitant to call the changes significant until further analysis has been conducted, except when the pattern is in the opposite direction to most other monitoring stations. This does hint at a worsening situation in London Road, unfortunately.

This again shows a broadly constant level of pollution, with a handful of large changes in at a few sites. Here is the same data shown on an interactive graph that we named the CAPIT tool:

This clearly shows The News is wrong to claim “The only area to still be below par is the London Road corridor, in North End”. The pollution is also above the legal limit near the Catholic Cathedral (site 116).

In other news, the latest report reveals the City Council has added new NO2 monitoring tubes to many new locations: 16 in 2017 and 59 in 2018, up from 28 sites in previous years. This is very welcome as it allows Portsmouth City Council and the public to see the scale of the problem. The 2018 additions were due to DEFRA commenting on the 2017 air quality report. (Thanks DEFRA!)

The report mentions £245k being spent on an “East-West Active Travel Corridor”, which sounds promising.

The recent Parking Consultation report provides interesting reading:

An overwhelming majority (82% of respondents) view parking as problematic whereas 16% of respondents do not view parking as a concern in Portsmouth.

This is fairly obvious to anyone who has tried parking in Portsmouth. It is another symptom of Portsmouth’s over reliance on private car transport. In terms of encouraging sustainable transport:

The two main ways that bus use could be encouraged among respondents is ‘lower travel costs’ and ‘more frequent/reliable sources’ with 52% and 48% of respondents respectively.

The responses for ways of encouraging cycling across Portsmouth show that ‘Improve cycle routes’ is the most popular response with 34% of respondents selecting this option and ‘Increase/install cycle routes’ is second most common with 27% of respondents.

It seems a shame this were not sufficiently prioritized in the City Centre Road scheme.