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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.

Anna Against the Machine

In honour of International Women’s Day, we are thrilled to be celebrating the achievements of local community campaigner and Portsmouth Green Party activist, Anna Koor.

In this extended interview,  we discuss Anna’s involvement in the ongoing campaign to get the road around Camber Dock in Old Portsmouth registered as a Public Right of Way.  This is a longer blog post than usual, but I (Tamara) hope you will agree that it is worth the extra scrolling!

So to bring you up to speed, last week saw a significant win for the campaign; Portsmouth City Council was instructed by the Environment Secretary to raise an Order for a Restricted Byway.  

Thanks to the steadfast dedication and campaigning of Anna Koor, Ken Bailey and the Camber Action Group, and with the support of the Open Spaces Society; the quayside path around the Camber is now on the road to becoming a Public Right of Way – which is what the campaign is all about! This milestone step towards the protection of our public access to this pathway comes after a lengthy four-year campaign of rejected applications and appeals.

“This is wonderful news Tamara”, I hear you cry! “But what does that actually mean? Raising an order? Public right of way? What is this language you speak?”

Well, dear reader, basically this means that Anna and the campaign are moving closer to their aim to ensure that this historic route finally becomes fully protected by law. 

Headshot of community campaigner Anna Koor

 

But don’t just take my word for it, as to tell us more and to explain in plain English what this all means, Anna Koor is here with me.

campaign Chat Time with Anna

Tamara: Anna, welcome to Shades of Green and congratulations on the success of your appeal.

Let me start by saying  I am feeling rather sheepish as I know next to nothing about public rights of way and raising orders, and so will probably be asking you some rather obvious questions!

Anna: Hi Tamara, it’s great to catch up with you and even better to also explain more about what a milestone this news is for people in Portsmouth.

Tamara:  Before we get to the nitty-gritty of your recent triumph, please tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement in the community.

Anna: I’ve lived back in Pompey with my partner since 2005 – we both were here in our formative years as students at the Polytechnic in the 1980s. So in that respect, I do consider Portsmouth my spiritual as well as physical home. I’m self-employed as a book editor but also work locally as a barista and baker.

I am very involved in my local community and campaigns like Community Speedwatch. Speeding is something I could rant on about endlessly so a few years ago I signed up for Community SpeedWatch with some of my neighbours and we started doing education exercises on our 20mph streets.

I also joined the Green Party in March 2015 and ended up standing as a Green Party local council candidate. The Greens did really well across the whole city and from talking to voters I got the impression that they were fed-up with the three big parties and wanted an alternative.

The Camber dock

Boats on the Camber

Tamara: You seems to be very connected with your community. Where did the Camber Dock come in? I have to admit I don’t know much about it, apart from The Bridge Street Tavern pub!

Anna: The Camber Dock is just around the corner from us. One of our first discoveries, when we moved back to Pompey, was this little gem tucked away behind the Cathedral — the Camber Dock became our daily post-work ‘constitutional’.

The Camber Dock is part of the Old Portsmouth Conservation Area. It really is a hidden treasure – I think we must be the only seafront city with a fishing fleet right in the heart of the urban environment. The Camber is where Portsmouth was born – the city grew out of this little enclave centuries ago.

The land the Camber sits on is owned by Portsmouth City Council and is used by the Port– it, therefore, belongs to all of us and is a valuable heritage asset. The public – locals, visitors etc – have always used this quayside road along with users such as boat owners and fishermen.

Many of us would be unhappy to see this land sold and possibly lost to the public.  

THE CAMPAIGN FOR RIGHT OF WAY BEGINS

Tamara: Gosh, I had assumed that as it was public land, the council would have to honour that. How did you get involved in campaigning to protect the area? What brought it to your attention?

Anna: Ken Bailey and I are the applicants who originally applied to the Council in 2014 to register the Right of Way. Ken was born and brought up in and around the Camber and still lives a stone’s throw from it – he remembers using it as a playground back in his youth.

It was only when we heard about the redevelopment plans at the Camber in 2014, to make way for the Ben Ainslie Racing building, that we got together with fellow residents because we were worried that the right of way we had all been using might be under threat. It wasn’t the building we were concerned about but the possibility that the route around the water’s edge might no longer be accessible to the public.  

Tamara: I have no idea how to challenge the Council on public access other than complaining on Facebook, which as we all know isn’t always super effective! How did you and Ken go about it?

Anna: Well, when it became clear that the Camber quaysides were in danger of being blocked to the public, a group of us teamed up and joined the national Open Spaces Society in order to learn more about rights of way and what we could do to protect this route in law under Section 53 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Like you, I knew very little about rights of way other than thinking perhaps this could be a way of legally protecting this established route that the public have used for decades. We applied to Portsmouth City Council to have the definitive map and register amended to add a Right of Way.

Tamara: Definitive map? Is this like Google Maps but more authoritative?

Anna: *chuckles politely at Tamara’s terrible joke* Not quite – Definitive Maps are a legal record of all Rights of Way in England. They are kept by Surveying Authorities who have a duty to keep them updated. Portsmouth City Council is a Surveying Authority.  

THE JOYS OF APPLYING TO THE COUNCIL

Tamara: Ahhh, I see. Thanks for explaining that. What did putting together the application involve? I can imagine it wasn’t simple and straightforward?

Anna: It has been a very long and drawn out process.  Along with other volunteer supporters, we spent an age going through historic records in the Portsmouth History Centre. We scoured the minutes of council committees going back to when records began.

The process we used essentially involved supplying witness statements demonstrating that the Camber route had enjoyed uninterrupted use by the public over a 20 year period. We provided witness statements to that effect, along with documentary and photographic evidence of historic use.  

Tamara: Anna, this sounds like SO much work! I feel overwhelmed just thinking about all the research and paperwork. With all this evidence behind you, why didn’t the Council approve the application?

THE FOUR-YEAR KNOCKBACK

Anna: Well, our first application in 2014 was refused, partly because the Council considered that a right of way around the quay edge would interfere with the duties of the Port, even though our evidence demonstrated that the public has always used this route in happy co-existence with port activities.

Tamara: I assume you took to Facebook in armchair rage at the futility of local politics?

Anna: Not exactly! Instead, we appealed to the Secretary of State. This was dismissed – not because of reasons to do with the port, but because of an amendment to government legislation. It is very convoluted, but to cut a long story short, we had no option but to make fresh applications in 2016 to the Council to record a different category of Right of Way – either a Restricted Byway or a Footpath.

Tamara: Please tell me this time the council agreed and they offered you the key to the city. (I have been watching a lot of ‘Parks and Recreation‘ lately.)

Anna: That would have been nice but no such luck. Again, the council refused.

Tamara: So far, it’s sounding like you were being knocked back at every turn. The Council rejected your application twice. How did you turn it around?

AN ORDER IS RAISED (THIS IS A GOOD THING)

Anna: Last year we appealed for the second time to the Secretary of State. This time, the Planning Inspector re-examined all the evidence and any fresh information we had unearthed and instructed Portsmouth City Council to raise an Order for a Restricted Byway. Ultimately, this will lead to getting the Right of Way registered on the definitive map.

View of the Camber

Tamara: Yes! Result! Anna and Ken against the Man!  Just to clarify…asking for a friend – what does it mean to raise an Order?

Anna: Basically, to amend the definitive map by adding an established Right of Way, the Surveying Authority (Portsmouth City Council) needs to publish an Order which anyone has the opportunity to comment on.

Tamara: Whew, what a process to get to this stage! You and Ken have my admiration as I don’t know many people with your tenacity and perseverance.  It must have been rather disheartening to do so much work and get numerous rejections. What kept you going?

*hums Tubthumping’s ‘Chumbawamba -I Get Knocked Down‘*

Anna: Really, it was the strength of feeling among the local community, the compelling evidence we found and the feeling that we had to see this through to some kind of just conclusion meant we felt compelled to Appeal. The only way we could feel that our case could be properly settled was by an independent Planning Inspector.

Tamara: Which is what has finally happened with the Planning Inspector instructing PCC to raise an Order for a Restricted Byway. I will definitely be commenting on this Order, in your favour obvs, when it is published. When is that going to be?

Anna: We hope this is now done without further delay and that this route finally becomes fully protected in law so that future generations can continue enjoying it.

Tamara: Thank you so much for speaking to me today. It has been a pleasure. Good luck with the rest of the campaign and please do come back and update us after the Order is published.

 

For more information or to get in contact with Anna Koor or Ken Bailey about the Camber Dock campaign,  email anna.koor@ntlworld.com.

You can also find out more about their appeal success here as reported in The Portsmouth News.

What are your thoughts on the Camber campaign? Have you ever gone up against the Council? Tell us in the comments below.