Air, oxygen, breathing – I admit these are not topics I tend to ponder as I go about my daily life. When in my car, I (Tamara) tend to be more concerned with evading Pompey traffic than about the effect I am having on the air quality. When I cycle around town trying to get past the self-same bumper-to-bumper traffic, I am not thinking about the fumes I am breathing in so much as trying to survive aggressive drivers.
But as with most things in life, it is all interconnected. Air quality in Portsmouth is at illegal and unsafe level. I first became aware of these issues when my local Portsmouth Green Party activists initiated the #LetPompeyBreathe campaign.
As a lazy environmentalist, I prefer to have issues explained to me in simple, easy-to-understand terms. Here to do just that, in this special Thursday edition of Shades of Green, is Portsmouth Green Party activist and #LetPompeyBreathe spokesperson Tim Sheerman-Chase.
Tune in to @expressfm tonight from 8:25 to hear our own Tim speaking about the #letpompeybreathe campaign! Don’t forget to sign the petition. #breathingcities #cleanair #airpollution #airquality #airpollutionsucks #pompeygreens #greenpompey #green #thegreenparty #greenparty #climatechange #portsmouth #pompey #passionatelyportsmouth
Me: Hihi Tim! Thanks for joining me via email to talk about the air quality issue in Portsmouth. As some of our readers may not be aware of the #LetPompeyBreathe campaign, what it is all about and what is your role in this?
Tim: #LetPompeyBreathe is a campaign group aiming to get Portsmouth’s air pollution within safe and legal limits. It is affiliated with Portsmouth Green Party, Friends of the Earth, local neighbourhood forums and other concerned groups.
My role is as spokesperson, blogger and researcher of government published reports. These tend to be fairly large and impenetrable, but I am assisted by my science background. I am the lead petitioner on the petition currently before Portsmouth City Council.
In a nutshell, what is the problem with our air quality?
Portsmouth is one of the worst cities in the UK for air quality, with pollution levels in continuous breach of both legal limits specified in the EU Air Quality Directive, English law, and World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
Is the air pollution a problem across the whole city or is it localised to certain areas?
Pollution levels greatly vary around the city. Some particularly bad areas include:
- Hampshire Terrace/Queens Street
- The top of Commercial Road
- London Road/Fratton Road/Kingston Road
- Eastern Way/Milton Road
The residential areas of Southsea, Milton and Tipner have relatively better air quality.
Traffic is the largest factor in local air pollution. Diesel engines are particularly bad, particularly from diesel cars, buses and heavy goods vehicles. This is probably the easiest area to make improvements and bring pollution to within safe limits.
Gulp…I used to have a diesel car as I thought it was better for the environment than petrol cars! Luckily, it broke down on me and was replaced with a petrol-electric hybrid. What other individual actions can we take?
It is difficult to avoid air pollution completely for an individual person, apart from moving away from cities! However, you can reduce exposure by avoiding busy roads at peak times. Pollution is far worse inside vehicles than outside, so you can help yourself (while helping your community) by reducing car usage. Try to use public transport, cycling and walking instead, even if only for one day a week extra.
What is it specifically about our air quality that is unsafe?
There are various types of pollution – Portsmouth has a particular issue with the levels of small particulate pollution (PM2.5) exceeding WHO safe limits. We also breach the annual NO2 limits in several locations.
Particulate pollution (also known as particulate matter), is the general term for the solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Small particulate pollution is fine microscopic inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometres and smaller.
How is air pollution measured and who regulates it?
Regulations have been put in place to address the problem. Among the most significant is the UK law Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010. This specifies legally binding limits on the UK government for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate pollution.
That is a great start but it’s one thing to know there’s a problem and set national regulations and another to actually take positive action on a local level- what is actually being done about it? Why are the council and government not being held to account?
As you said, government bodies often ignore their responsibilities and 278 of the 391 local authorities missed the legal targets in 2017.
These legal limits are gradually being enforced. The European court of justice is threatening the UK and five other countries with multi-million Euro fines if they do not comply with legal limits. Three successive High Court victories have been won by ClientEarth over the UK government, with the government’s plans being found to be inadequate.
Responsibility has largely been given to local government, which have taken some steps to deal with it but far stronger measures need to be taken. Part of the ClientEarth ruling found that central government does not have a sufficient enforcement for local authorities to meet these legal limits. Being underfunded, local government is having difficulty in taking suitable measures. Also, in many councils, the political will to address the problem is lacking.
How does the #LetPompeyBreathe campaign hold Portsmouth City Council to account?
#LetPompeyBreathe has two main goals: to raise public awareness and to encourage Portsmouth City Council to take further action.
At a local level, there are two documents that the council are required to produce: an air quality strategy and an action plan. Currently, #LetPompeyBreathe are petitioning the council to urgently publish its Air Quality Action Plan for consultation. In the two months since the petition went live, we have gathered the required 1000 signatures for the issue to be discussed at the next Full Council meeting which is in July (and handed them in on Clean Air Day – which is today).
As for the effectiveness of petitioning, politicians respond to public pressure particularly when well organized. If they see there is a clear demand for something to be done, we are in a much better position. The petition is only one step in the campaign.
What specific actions could the council take to rectify the air pollution problem?
Here’s our South East MEP Keith Taylor with other PGP members protesting the lack of action from @portsmouthcitycouncil on air pollution. Join us at The Southsea Village tonight from 7 to hear Keith talk on what measures we can take to improve air quality in Portsmouth. #letpompeybreathe #airquality #airpollution #pompeygreens #green #breathingcities
There are many things, including:
- improve walking and cycling routes
- make the urban environment safer and more pleasant
- make public transport easier to use, more integrated, cheaper and cleaner
- reduce car use through careful city planning
MPs from different parties have been calling for a new Clean Air Act which will greatly strengthen monitoring and control of pollutants. We also need to shift the cost of pollution on to the polluter, particularly in egregious cases like Dieselgate and the car manufacturers.
Most large cities will require a charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ) to bring air pollution to within safe limits within a reasonable time.
Tim, thank you for taking the time to inform us about the #LetPompeyBreathe campaign and petition. Dear Reader, please sign the petition, if you haven’t already and share it with your friends, family, acquaintances and frenemies.