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Portsmouth City Council takes Legal Risks on Air Quality

ClientEarth has warned 100 local authorities their plans for air quality must be robust.

Lawyers from ClientEarth are putting 100 local authorities across England on notice, warning them that they will violate their legal obligations and risk legal challenge if they do not introduce proper climate change plans.
The environmental lawyers are writing to each local authority that is currently developing a new local plan, giving them eight weeks to explain how they will set evidence-based carbon reduction targets and ensure these targets are then central to their new planning policy.
Amid growing pressure for local governments to declare ‘climate emergencies’, ClientEarth launched the campaign in light of the massive shortfall in compliant local planning policy across the country and to advise authorities of their legal duties under planning and environmental law.
ClientEarth climate lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “There is a collective failure by local authorities across England to plan adequately for climate change. Too often climate change is perceived to be just a national or international issue and therefore solely the responsibility of central government.
“Clearly central government needs to do more, as the recent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) progress reports stress. Yet so many of the daily decisions around new and existing infrastructure – such as new buildings, roads and utilities – are made at the local level. All of these decisions will ‘lock in’ an area’s future emissions and its resilience to climate change.

Extract from a Press release from ClientEarth

This should be particularly concerning to Portsmouth City Council since they are ignoring High Court rulings by making statements such as:

In developing a solution to exceedances in nitrogen dioxide levels in the city there is a balance to be struck between achieving compliance with legal requirements to reduce harm to people’s health and the impact that such measures could have on the local economy and resident’s livelihoods. It is considered that the proposed preferred approach strikes this balance.

Air Quality Plan, Progress Report, (Due to be voted on) 9th Sept 2019

The High Court rejected DEFRA’s argument that their plans were proportionate based on the balance of various priorities.

I reject any suggestion that the state can have any regard to cost in fixing the target date for compliance or in determining the route by which the compliance can be achieved where one route produces results quicker than another. In those respects the determining consideration has to be the efficacy of the measure in question and not their cost. (and) That, it seems to me, flows inevitably from the requirements in the Article to keep the exceedance period as short as possible.

High Court Ruling, Feb 2018

The law already takes into account what is a reasonable action. With their current attitude, PCC risks people’s health and lives, not to mention wasting time and tax payer money in a potential legal battle.

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XR Portsmouth Air Quality Protest

Extinction Rebellion Portsmouth organized a procession and die-in protest on 17th August. It attracted more people than any air pollution protest to date, and helped raise awareness of the problem of air pollution in Portsmouth. I’m worried most people are not aware of the danger they face from pollutants like NO2 and particulates. The walk started at the North End junction by the library, and passed through several severely polluted roads including Kingston Crescent. We also passed by the birthplace of Charles Dickens near the end of the M275, which is also a pollution hot spot. The walk stopped at several monitoring sites along the away and at each stop we had a short talk by a volunteer on the harm caused by pollution, and the social justice aspects of the campaign (the most deprived areas have the lowest car ownership but the highest pollution). The talk on pollution during the time of Charles Dickens was very interesting. I gave a talk on potential solutions to the crisis which revolved around improving public transport, active travel and restricting car usage. XR erected a number of signs along the route to warn people of the danger to public health.

The event was covered by The News, which is appreciated!

PS Progress report by PCC on the air quality plan. And this too.

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Play Out Pompey

Part of Francis Avenue, Southsea, was closed for 3 hours to traffic on Sunday 21st July for children to play in their local area. This was organized by local mum Laura Mellor of Play Out Pompey. This follows recent roadworks to install speed tables which enabled children to use the usually busy street as a play space. This allowed friendships between local children to form, and then between neighbours who were more often at the front of their houses. After the roadworks were removed, local residents decided to try make the streets safe for play again. This is great for community relationships and a great example of what is possible if we claim space back from car usage. It also raises awareness of the air quality problem and some of the measures that can be used to tackle it. We need to make car usage less convenient and make our urban spaces more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists.

Organizing such a road closure is quite an achievement and involves quite a bit of work. Permission was needed from Portsmouth City Council (PCC) to close the road. I understand Suzy Horton, Steve Pitt and the Active Travel Team were very helpful in overcoming bureaucratic challenges. Then every household on the Francis Avenue was asked for their opinion on the scheme, even though only a part of the road was to be closed. The vast majority of residents were supportive of the scheme. The diversions needed to be planned. Signs were borrowed from PCC. Contacting the residents found several other parents willing to help organize and steward on the day. About six stewards kept watch on the road and answered motorists questions as needed. A stewarding rota was organized so people could take a break. The organizers had to get public liability insurance to reduce their personal legal risk.

At the designated time, road closure signs and cones were positioned. Local residents who wanted to park in the closed section were escorted at walking speed to a parking space, which only occasionally happened. After about an hour, the road was full of children playing, often with parents. I thought about cycling through the area but it was simply too busy!

Not all residents were happy with the event. They were concern over congestion and possible car damage. Using nearby school playgrounds out of school time was suggested, but this is still not as local as playing outside your own house and making friends with neighbours.

The event was attended by the Mayor, and local councillors Suzy Horton, Darren Sanders and two PCSOs. Suzy said she was looking for an opportunity to do this kind of road closure for some time but felt it was best for an apolitical organizer to take the initiative. Play Out Pompey was the first such road closure and was a learning process for the council, as well as the organizers. There is a good chance the process will be streamlined for future events. Laura hopes to repeat the event some time soon. It might be good to do this kind of event as part of the annual clean air day, perhaps on a road that has not been previously closed.

Playing Out is a small charity that helps parents organize road closures for children’s play.

Reporting in The News: Francis Avenue in Southsea is closed for the afternoon to become the city’s first ‘play street’

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July News

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.

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Clean Air Zone For Portsmouth Will Benefit Health OF Poorest

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 thatAir 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 reportedair 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 statedThe 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 sayingAir Pollution is a public health emergency responsible for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths” London Mayor Sadiq Khan has explainedTackling 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.

Summary

  • 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.
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New Areas Found Above Legal Limits in Portsmouth

The latest (draft) air quality figures for Portsmouth have just been published. I’ve updated my CAPIT map tool with the new figures.

My first impression is that sites with long term readings are about the same as 2017, for example London Road remains about the same. Known problem areas of Queens Road, St Michael’s gyratory and the bottom of M275 are back out of compliance. However, the expanding monitoring introduced recently have picked up several new locations that are out of compliance (above 40ug/m3). This includes Albert Road, Market Way (behind Cascades) and Fratton Bridge. The busy road by the Catholic Cathedral has a very high NO2 level of 50ug/m3. Areas barely within compliance including the top of Milton Market, the junction at the bottom of Velder Avenue, Cosham (Northern Road & Tudor Crescent) and Port Solent.

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Portsmouth Announces CAZ Consultation

Earlier this year Portsmouth City Council announced we need to join the fight for cleaner air as early indications showed air pollution was getting worse. Like other cities across the UK, Central Government also requires that improvements are made to air quality in Portsmouth the shortest possible time.

Your views on a charging clean air zone for Portsea Island are really important. They will inform part of our strategy that has to consider all the options for reducing air pollution and any future consultation we may need to carry out.

The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete and is open until 5:00pm on Thursday 4 July 2019. Thank you in advance for your feedback.

News article

Survey for individuals

Survey for businesses

My previously published thoughts on a CAZ for Portsmouth

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Traffic Removal to Address Congestion And Pollution

Portsmouth is a congested city which causes delays and air pollution. Traffic Removal in the UK organized a series of talks at the University of Portsmouth on 6th June. I wanted to spread their ideas to a broader audience, since Portsmouth City Council is under pressure from DEFRA to reduce air pollution as quickly as possible. They have also set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030, which will be a challenge to achieve.

High Street, Guildford
Guildford high street is pedestrianized in the day time (Monday to Friday from 11am to 4pm; Saturday from 9am to 6pm; and Sunday from 12noon to 5pm), which allows for loading times

Traffic removal covers a number of topics including pedestrianization (usually with some cycling provisions), filtered traffic permeability (to favour better cycling and walking over motor vehicles) and rerouting of traffic. These measures are intended to improve a local area by making a more pleasant living and working space, including increased footfall, increased retail spending, raised property values, less accidents, less pollution and more green spaces. While traffic removal has long been of interest to urban planners, the studies of UK based interventions are rather dated. With further research, we can better understand how changes to the transport system affect peoples behaviours and their satisfaction with the schemes. Traffic removal schemes are traditionally thought to displace almost all of the traffic to surrounding roads but it seems that while some displacement happens, some travellers change their transport mode or even go to a completely different destination. Why this happens is currently unclear but it is difficult to study as areas far away from a scheme can be affected. Several towns and cities are considering radical plans, including London and Leeds. Taunton has a scheme that may or may not happen in some form. Worldwide, about 12 cities have announced they are going car free.

Traffic removal often meets resistance from local businesses, residents and politicians. Paradoxically, most of them accept these schemes after a year or two, saying they would not choose to go back to the original arrangements. Businesses can overestimate how car dependent their customers are. However, the scheme has to have enough of a “wow” factor to get people to be happy with the changes, so introducing less ambitious schemes can often be counter-productive. The failed pedestrianization of Palmerston Road South is perhaps an example? Traffic restrictions can be introduced on a trial basis, which can often addresses the concerns of people affected. If the scheme is unpopular, it can be withdrawn. People’s initial reaction to traffic removal can often be “that will never work here”, until they see it actually happen. Also, businesses in nearby pedestrianized areas can object since they will loose their distinct advantage! People are often concerned that plans are made piecemeal, without an overall transport strategy.

Places that have remained traffic free, such as Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands, have found different uses for pavement space such as planting trees, storing bicycles, extending shops, cafe areas, bench space and more. People tend to walk in the road. However, on the islands most bulk goods are moved by horses, which might not be appropriate for Portsmouth!

Ashford Shared Space Roads
Ashford’s shared space scheme

Shared spaces, also known as “living streets” are a type of road scheme that removes road signs, road markings and reduces the distinction between pavement and road space. The counter-intuitive effect is that accidents and traffic speed decreases because people are uncertain about traffic priorities. Schemes like this have been introduced in Bournemouth, Ashford (Kent), and in other places. Some design features are often required by blind pedestrians in order for them to navigate the space, like a small kerb. While footfall increased in these schemes, the traffic level was often unchanged. These schemes seem to have fallen out of favour after the “Accidents by Design” report, which reported low satisfaction with these changes. Motorists can still dominate a space since they are protected from injury. Planners are waiting for updated guidance before any new schemes are done. Some schemes use paving that is claimed by the manufacturer to reduce NO2 by converting it to nitrates. However, Portsmouth also has a problem with nitrate pollution in waste water.

Professor Djamila Ouelhadj from the University of Portsmouth pointed out that people will not accept traffic removal unless alternative modes of travel are provided, along with interoperability of traffic options. This can include sustainable freight distribution centres, integrated ticketing and apps to provide travel information. She plans to showcase the universities expertise in these areas as part of a new Intelligent Transport Cluster on 13th June.

High street retail has faced challenges from both Internet shops and out of town centres. Some businesses have adapted to provide experiences rather than simply selling products. City centres need a good balance of shops and services to remain healthy and vibrant. The best had predominantly office space rather than simply retail, will low industrial usage. Another study listed and ranked many factors that made healthy city centres: parking was not a high priority, and car dependence was a negative factor.

For Portsmouth, one issue is the selection of sites that are suitable for traffic removal. The easiest places to change will often experience the least benefits from doing so. The retails areas in the south of Portsmouth are fragmented between Gunwharf Quays, Commerical Road, Fratton Road and Palmerston Road: perhaps it is time for them to be connected by walking & cycling routes that are pleasant to use? It is time for politicians to be bold and tackle the city’s congestion and pollution, and to move toward active travel.

PS Clean air day is on 20th June! And Portsmouth’s annual air quality report is due soon.
PPS Madrid is a rare exception, where traffic has be reintroduced after limits were imposed.

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pollution inside A car vs. Walking and Cycling

Some information based on research by Liz Batten of Clean Air Southampton

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.

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#LetPompeyBreathe in Air Quality News

Our recent activity was reported by Air Quality News! Why Portsmouth needs a Clean Air Zone

Portsmouth needs to seriously consider introducing a Clean Air Zone to improve the air quality of its poorest residents, writes Tim-Sheerman-Chase of the local Green Party.

Clean air campaigners in Portsmouth welcome Councillor Vernon-Jackson’s appeal for more funds to encourage active travel and sustainable transport. [Continue reading]

UPDATE: Portsmouth Friends of the Earth relaunched their website, which includes their Streets for People report about peoples’ best and worst roads.

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