The Choke’s on Us: Passing the Buck on Air Pollution in Portsmouth

Image of Portsmouth Green Party members taken at the Clean Air Walk in October, courtesy of Andrew Larder.

Green Party MEP for the South East, Keith Taylor visited Portsmouth in November to discuss concerns over poor air quality in the city. S&C regular contributor Andrew Larder reports.

5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12) . Polluted air is also blamed for complications with lung and heart disease and has been linked to Alzheimer’s. If we reduced air pollution, the NHS could save up to £1 billion, as it is estimated 3 people a day die in the UK due to air pollution.

According to Portsmouth City Council’s Public Health Annual Report 2016, ‘air pollution causes an estimated health burden equivalent to 100 deaths a year. This is largely through an increase in diseases affecting the heart and lungs.’ The numbers may be even higher.

Portsmouth Green Party report there is no safe level of exposure to diesel fumes and say  ‘we should be targeting a pollution level that is significantly below the legal limit. Apart from NO2 levels, pollution from particulates [largely invisible fine particles listed as one of the top three causes of air pollution] is also a concern in Portsmouth.’

With three routes in and out of the city, Portsmouth is constantly on the brink of gridlock. According to the TomTom Traffic Index 2016, last year traffic in Portsmouth added an average 25% extra journey time, an increase of 2% on 2015. One accident or one breakdown can lead to chaos but the more serious effects of traffic pollution goes unseen.

How serious is the problem of air pollution in Portsmouth?

Green Party MEP for the South East, Keith Taylor visited Portsmouth on Thursday 2nd November to discuss concerns over poor air quality in the city. After speaking with Portsmouth City Council representatives, Mr Taylor spoke at a meeting in Fratton along with Rachel Hudson from Friends of the Earth.

Rachel Hudson from Friends of the Earth, Portsmouth speaking about the Clean Air project at a meeting in Fratton in November. Photo by Andrew Larder.

Ms Hudson reported on a citizen science project, the Clean Air Campaign, running nationwide and organised by Friends of the Earth (FOE) in collaboration with Kings College, London. Friends of the Earth in Portsmouth are taking part in the project.

FOE Portsmouth placed 14 diffusion tubes – used to measure around levels of air pollution – the city over a two week period. The average readings show the levels of nitrogen dioxide to be dangerously high.

In October, FOE Portsmouth organised a Clean Air Walk along Fratton Road, Kingston Road, and London Road Corridor (FKL Corridor). The route, which runs from Fratton Bridge to the junction with Stubbington Avenue, has been designated an Air Quality Management Area by Portsmouth City Council because of high annual mean levels of nitrogen dioxide arising from road traffic.

Over 20 people took part in the Clean Air Walk and were given a brief overview of air quality in the area. According to PCC’s 2016 Air Quality Status Report the highest level of nitrogen dioxide in the city (49.16 micrograms per cubic metre) was measured outside The Tap public house in London Road. During the same period the continuous air quality monitoring station in London Road gave an annual mean reading of 41.29 micrograms per cubic metre.

Both these measurements exceed the legal limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. Measurements were higher than for 2015, indicating a worsening in air quality.

Passing the buck: who’s responsible for clean air in Portsmouth?

Keith Taylor MEP speaking on air pollution at a public meeting in Fratton in November. Photo by Andrew Larder.

Earlier in the day Mr Taylor met with representatives of the Council, Richard Lee, Environmental Health Manager and Dr Jason Horsley, Director of Public Health.

Following defeat in several court rulings, the Government published its Draft Air Quality Plan in May 2017. Mr Taylor had previously described the report as feeble, highlighting that government ministers had shifted responsibility from the government to local authorities.

Mr Taylor says councils are already facing cuts next year and may struggle to initiate any new measures on air pollution. He is  concerned that no action plan or targets have been put in place by the Government.

Portsmouth City Council assured Mr Taylor an action plan was in the ‘scoping phase’, but Mike Wines, local resident and air quality campaigner expressed fears that the scoping phase could go on for a long time.

‘The public deserves to know just how dangerous the air they breathe can be. With more and more people…getting involved in the Let Pompey Breathe campaign, we need the council to introduce better 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. A more joined up approach is needed and a consultation on the plan is welcomed, however, a timeline must be put in place to ensure this plan isn’t kicked into the long grass.’

Despite this, local groups are keen to work with the council to improve air quality in the city.

Keith Taylor agreed that the action plan to improve air quality in Portsmouth should not be delayed.

‘Having met with key representatives from Portsmouth City Council, I welcome that the upcoming Air Quality Action Plan will be put out for consultation, however, it is worrying that there is no timeline to do this or reassurances that this will be shared with Portsmouth residents and transport providers in the coming months. Every day that passes, is one too many for those vulnerable to dirty air, we need more urgent delivery to ensure the city is within legal limits and a safer place for pedestrians, cyclists and children walking to school.’

You can read Portsmouth City Council’s Air Quality Strategy here, which has a stated aim of ‘driving forward the Air Quality Action Plan’.

Portsmouth Friends of the Earth have made a number of recommendations to the council, which include improving public transport, encouraging more cycling and walking, and to declutter pavements to assist walkers.

The Green Party and Friends of the Earth make a number of recommendations on how Portsmouth residents can battle air pollution, including:

  1. Use public transport when able
  2. Cycle more
  3. Walk more
  4. Buy petrol rather than diesel vehicles
  5. Write to your local council
  6. Write to your local MP
  7. Order a Clean Air Kit for yourself or a school from Friends of the Earth
  8. Do not leave your vehicle engine idling when stationary
  9. Join a pressure group or party such as FOE or Green Party
  10. Switch to clean energy providers

Get involved

Find out more: Portsmouth Green Party have put together a webpage devoted to air quality in Portsmouth

Find out for yourself: Order a clean air kit from Friends of the Earth

Read the Portsmouth Friends of the Earth report: Improving Air Quality in the Fratton Rd, Kingston Rd & London Rd Corridor

Get involved with the #LetPompeyBreathe campaign

Find like-minded local people by going along to Portsmouth Green Drinks