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Every Polluted Breath You Take

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.

let pompey breathe

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.

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?

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bj72L-0HpmR/?taken-by=pompeygreens

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?

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?

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.

LET POMPEY BREATHE

 

As we welcome in the new year with all its possibilities, we also warmly welcome our first guest post written by Portsmouth Green Party Coordinator Mike Wines. As the Green candidate for Fratton ward in this year’s upcoming local council elections, Mike is spearheading the #LetPompeyBreathe joint initiative which addresses the city’s poor air quality and brings together local groups: Portsmouth Friends of the Earth, Milton Neighbourhood Forum and  Portsmouth Green Party.

 

Mike puts this global and national issue of air quality and outside air pollution firmly in local perspective as he discusses the effect of outside air pollution on Pompey residents health, the council’s 10-year Air Quality Strategy which was published last summer  and the follow-up Draft Air Quality Action Plan which is currently in the ‘scoping phase’ and is still not published and consulted on.

So without further ado, Mike, please take us back, waaaaay back to the summer of ‘17 and tell us – what’s the deal with air quality in Portsmouth?

 

Image of Portsmouth Green Party Coordinator and local council candidate Mike Wines campaigning for clean air.

Mike writes…

On 17 July 2017, Councillor Simon Bosher, Portsmouth City Council Cabinet Member for Traffic & Transportation, ‘stressed that he was approving the Air Quality Strategy report and he was awaiting the action plan which should be brought back in a timely way; he would expect a report back before Christmas.’  It’s in the minutes so it must be true.  Sadly he omitted to state which Christmas.  As we welcome in 2018 it would appear, despite the natural assumption, he didn’t mean 2017.

On 28 October 2017, I joined many others on a Clean Air Walk organised by our friends at Portsmouth Friends of The Earth.  The route took us along Fratton Road, Kingston Road and London Road Corridor, an area that breaches national targets with its high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The walk was aimed at highlighting the direct impact of traffic on local communities and our city’s air quality.  I found it sadly ironic that I was personally unable to complete the walk thanks to the actual lack of air quality in the city.

Image of Keith Taylor, the Green Party Member of the European Parliament for the South East region, being interviewed on Portsmouth’s illegal pollution levels.

Image of Keith Taylor, the Green Party Member of the European Parliament for the South East region, being interviewed on Portsmouth’s illegal pollution levels.

On 2 November 2017, SE Green MEP Keith Taylor and I met with representatives from Portsmouth City Council, Dr. Jason Horsley, Director of Public Health, and Richard Lee, Regulatory Service Manager and Air Quality Specialist to discuss the city’s poor air quality.  After the meeting, Keith stated that he welcomed the news that the upcoming Air Quality Action Plan will be put out for consultation. He went on to say “However, it is worrying that there is no timeline to do this. Every day that passes, is one too many for those vulnerable to dirty air. We need to urgently ensure the city is brought within legal pollution limits and made a safer place for pedestrians, cyclists, and children walking to school.”

Image of Keith Taylor, the Green Party Member of the European Parliament for the South East region, being interviewed on Portsmouth’s illegal pollution levels.

Image of Keith Taylor, the Green Party Member of the European Parliament for the South East region, being interviewed on Portsmouth’s illegal pollution levels.

I don’t know about you but, personally speaking, I am fed up with having streaming eyes and getting out of breath walking 10 minutes out of my front door.  I’d love to enjoy the markets on Palmerston Road and in the past I’d have happily taken the 20 minutes to walk down there.  My only option now is to drive down there and add to the problem. It would be nice also not to be an added burden on our overstretched NHS. (On a side note, click here to see Mike talking about his personal experience on how the lack of funding for the NHS and Care in the Community has impacted on his father’s deteriorating health. Ok, back to Mike’s post!)

To quote myself after the November meeting with MEP Keith Taylor and the Council representatives: “The city council’s Air Quality Action Strategy is wholly inadequate for the task as it stands. Unless the strategy is accompanied by a detailed plan to bring air pollution within safe levels, we are left with poor a prospect of Portsmouth being rid of its air pollution scourge. We need to see urgent solutions to address the traffic problem in the city. Not just to and from the tourist areas such as Gunwharf Quays, but the traffic problem across all areas of the city such as Fratton Road, Kingston Road, and London Road where residents live, work and learn.”

Councillor Bosher appeared to neglect to ask Father Christmas last year for the Action Plan.  Let’s hope he’s asked the 2018 Easter Bunny.

 

Thanks, Mike!

To find out more about the #LetPompeyBreathe campaign, visit:

 

But wait, there’s more! Why not go offline and learn more about Portsmouth’s air quality from an informed local resident whilst having a chat and a pint with like-minded individuals?  Check out Portsmouth Green Drinks upcoming  event this January 10th at The Kings Pub, 39 Albert Road, Portsmouth, PO5 2SE at 7.30pm.

From 8pm, Mike Dobson from Friends of Old Portsmouth Association will be speaking on ‘A Community Perspective on Air Quality’. He will talk about some of his findings in relation to Air Quality in the city.  

He will briefly explore:

  • the misreporting of estimated mortality from air pollution,
  • the limitations of the analysis of air pollution and flawed assessment of trends,
  • the lack of response to inputs on consultation,
  • the strange decision not to publicise that unnecessary engine idling is illegal, and
  • question if increasing active travel (walking and cycling) is a tool to improve air quality or a hoped-for outcome when/if air quality has improved.

Portsmouth Green Drinks is a great way of meeting others working in the environmental sector, or who are simply interested in environmental & sustainability issues and want to enjoy a relaxed evening in good company.

Portsmouth Green Drinks is part of the Green Drinks network, an international informal networking group on an environmental theme.

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