Thursday 21st June 2018 was Clean Air Day and local activists for the #LetPompeyBreathe campaign handed in a petition calling on Portsmouth City Council to undertake a debate on air quality, and deliver the Air Quality Action Plan they promised last year. One of our #ReclaimTheNews team, Andrew Larder, reports.
Clean Air Day is co-ordinated by national charity, Global Action Plan and aims to improve the quality of the air that we breathe. Its partners include the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and official supporters include Portsmouth City Council, Hampshire County Council, Public Health England, and the Ministry of Defence.
Portsmouth’s Clean Air Day featured a range of activities to raise awareness of air pollution, including cycle marking by the Police, a walk on Hilsea Lines, travel advice and the opportunity to look at a low emission bus. Other neighbouring local authorities took different approaches with Southampton City Council’s Clean Air Network running a clean air festival involving live bands and schools. Winchester’s Action on Climate Change partnered with a wide range of local organisations, including Hampshire County and Winchester City Councils and the University of Winchester for a short programme of talks, walks and workshops.
Portsmouth City Council is one of many local authorities across the country supporting Clean Air Day, but many campaigners would like to see PCC moving faster with the Air Quality Action Plan it promised in its Air Quality Strategy last year. During his visit to Portsmouth in November 2017, the City Council assured South East MEP, Keith Taylor that an action plan was in the ‘scoping phase’, however, no consultation has yet taken place, nor has a draft of the Action Plan been published.
The WHO estimate that by 2050 six million people will have died due to poor air quality. In May this year Portsmouth was identified by the World Health Organisation(WHO) as being one of 49 cities in the UK with high levels of air pollution. As reported in Star and Crescent, in November 2017 Friends of the Earth recorded high levels of pollution in Kingston Road and Fawcett Road.
There is also clear support for a more robust Air Quality Strategy, including a consultation on an Action Plan.
Portsmouth Green Party have been very active in the local #LetPompeyBreathe campaign, supported by a range of other organisations in the city, including Friends of the Earth Portsmouth, Keep Milton Green, Baffins Forum, Milton Neighbourhood Plan and the Neighbourhood Forum, Portsmouth Cycle Forum and Portsmouth Greenpeace.
Together the campaigners have collected around 1200 signatures on a petition demanding Portsmouth City Council debate the issue of air pollution and finally deliver the fully consulted action plan on air pollution councillors promised last year.
Despite a recent report in the News claiming that ‘Only one area in the city now exceeds government-set levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide emitted through exhaust fumes, down from three in the previous year’, #LetPompeyBreathe campaigners state that air quality reports on NO2 levels do not support the Council’s claim.
In an article examining the Council’s most recent air pollution report, the #LetPompeyBreathe blog provides a map of NO2 levels across the city and states:
‘The News is wrong to claim “The only area to still be below par is the London Road corridor, in North End”. The pollution is also above the legal limit near the Catholic Cathedral’.
The Council recommend local residents take action to reduce air pollution by ‘turning their engine off when stationary’.
However, some campaigners would like to see more action taken locally, for example, reducing bus ticket prices one day a week to encourage drivers to take the bus. Two million passengers travel through the Ferry Port every year, a local tax of just one euro would generate two million euros for the council to reinvest in the city, including in air pollution.
Keith Taylor, Green Party South East MEP, said ‘There is an overwhelming demand from residents for action on air pollution in Portsmouth. This petition is just the beginning for the #LetPompeyBreathe campaign and it’s not just the 1000 plus people who have signed to date, it’s also all the concerned parents and the vulnerable residents that urgently need the council to improve the city’s air quality.
‘The council must now step up to the plate and no longer delay on releasing the public consultation on the air quality action plan.’
UPDATE [28/6/2018]: The #LetPompeyBreathe campaign petition was accepted by #Portsmouth City Council, with over 1000 signatures and the issue will be debated at the next full council meeting (10th July 2018).
Main photograph courtesy of Portsmouth Green Party.
This story is part of our ongoing series from our #ReclaimTheNews team, a group of local residents trained in investigative journalism in partnership with The Centre for Investigative Journalism. The group now forms S&C’s Community Reporting team. Expect more stories from them in the coming weeks and help spread the word by sharing their articles with your friends and networks – just click on the social media buttons below.