Oxford City Council has called for more powers to tackle air pollution, as campaigners hold the UK’s first National Clean Air Day.
In its official response to the government’s Draft Air Quality Action Plan, the city council has demanded more funding for local authorities to implement innovative new products, such as NO2-reducing road surfaces.
The local authority has also called on the Government to set up a network for councils to share information and best practice, as well as introduce a scrappage scheme to encourage drivers to take high-emitting vehicles off the road.
‘We are deeply concerned that Oxford is unlikely to get government funding to tackle air pollution because these draft proposals find that, without taking any further action, the city will have no problem by 2020,’ said Oxford City Council executive board member, Cllr John Tanner.
‘We think this is incorrect,’ added Cllr Tanner. ‘We are anxious to work with the government to tackle this public health emergency. Everyone has their part to play in reducing air pollution, which is why we have written to the government today requesting more powers to help incentivise people out of high-emission vehicles.’
Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have introduced a wide range of measures to improve air quality in Oxford, which has resulted in a 35% reduction in NO2 level at roadsides in the last decade.
But in some areas of the city average NO2 levels are still above the European Union target of 40μg/m3.
One measuring point in St Clement’s Street had an NO2 average of 67μg/m3 in 2015.
But the government’s Draft Air Quality Action Plan finds that, without any further action or measures, Oxford will meet the European Union’s target by 2020.
In its response to the action plan, the city council expressed surprise at this assessment and concern about the excessively optimistic modelling underpinning it, which may not be representing local pollution profiles as it should.
National Clean Air Day
Yesterday (June 15) also saw the UK’s first National Clean Air Day, which was coordinated by the Global Action Plan group.
The event focused on pollution hotspots; with action taking place in Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton, Leeds, Derby, Nottingham, London, and Scotland.
‘We set up National Clean Air Day precisely because we don’t want Brits to accidentally put themselves in high air pollution situations,’ said Global Action Plan partner, Chris Large.
‘We may feel safe from the elements inside our cars, but we’re not safe from pollution. Leaving the car at home cuts our exposure to pollution, causes less pollution and gives us a chance to get out into the fresh air.’
The promote the event, the campaign published details of a survey, which found 96% of parents do not think driving exposes them to the most air pollution compared to cycling and walking.
But an experiment conducted by King’s College London showed that a driver was exposed to nine times more pollution compared to a cyclist taking the exact same route.
‘The health impacts of air pollution may have been underestimated, yet again. 21% of respondents living in urban areas, have avoided physical activity due to their concerns about high levels of air pollution,’ said Nick Watts, Director, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.
‘This number is startling given the enormous obesity-related disease burden faced by the NHS. When it comes to physical activity, every percentage point counts, and any perceived barrier is cause for great concern. To place this in context, by 2034, over 70% of the population are projected to be overweight or obese, with current trends costing the NHS £10bn per year, by 2050.’
Anne Shaw, assistant director for transportation and connectivity at Birmingham City Council, commented: ‘Air pollution is a serious public health issue affecting everyone who visits, lives and works in Birmingham and this means we all have a responsibility to help tackle it together.
‘A key part of the work we are doing to improve air quality in Birmingham is encouraging people to think about positive changes they can make in their daily routines, including walking, cycling or using public transport instead of driving. National Clean Air Day supports this wider work and provides an opportunity for employers, communities, schools and individuals to get involved and play a role in reducing air pollution.’