The Problem with Portsmouth City Council’s Clean Air Zone Plan

Portsmouth City Council passed  a proposal this week responding to a government instruction to consider charging some vehicles in a clean air zone to improve air quality in the shortest time. Local air quality campaigner for Let Pompey Breathe, Tim Sheerman-Chase, gave a deputation to the Council Cabinet this week outlining his concerns over the Council’s plans. 

The Council’s proposal

A statement on the Council’s website states that the local authority ‘is proposing a class B zone that would mean a daily charge for older, more polluting buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, and heavy good vehicles. Petrol vehicles that are Euro 4 or newer, and diesel vehicles that are Euro 6 or newer would not be charged.

‘The council’s modelling shows a class B zone, with a package of other non-charging measures is likely to meet the required air quality standards in the city by the government deadline of during 2022.’

Cllr Dave Ashmore, Portsmouth City Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change, said, ‘Improving air quality in the city is an urgent matter, one which has seen the Government discussing imposing a charging Clean Air Zone on Portsmouth like they have in other places. Our analysis has shown that a Class B Clean Air Zone, with additional measures, would achieve the level of compliance needed to ensure the health and wellbeing of people in our city whilst not impacting the economy of our city.

‘Right from the start I have been concerned about the massive economic impact that a government imposed Class D clean air zone would have had on residents here. Many people just can’t afford to replace their old car. Although the Government could still impose a class D zone on our city, we need to continue with the additional measures to improve our air quality, such as the extra trees being planted, improvements for cycling and the anti-engine idling campaign.’

Tim Sheerman- Chase’s deputation for Let Pompey Breathe

It is unlikely that a class B Clean Air Zone will bring air pollution within legal limits in the short term. Cars are the main source of pollution, which is ignored under this CAZ plan, so it misses the most obvious opportunity to address the problem. No other cities have seen big changes in NO2 after introducing a class B CAZ. Portsmouth also has a track record of over optimistic air quality predictions. For example, in the 2010 plan, PCC states they will reach legal levels by 2012-2016. This may be due to unrealistic assumptions, bad traffic data or a mistake in the analysis. Why should we trust the latest modeling when the older predictions were very wrong? The proposed city centre road scheme will ruin any chance of legal compliance. Is the traffic from this and other future developments included in the air quality model? Will the council commit to stop any plan that violates air quality limits? Given the experience of similar cities, CAZ Class D should be modelled and planned, as well as a ‘do nothing’ option, and the option of a class D CAZ with a ban on older diesel vehicles. This is the only way we can be reasonably certain to meet legal requirements and provides a stepping stone towards PCC’s commitment to go net zero carbon by 2030.

There is an issue with the legality of the council’s plans. The council report states that ‘a balance [needs] to be struck between achieving compliance with legal requirements to reduce harm to people’s health and the impact that such measures could have on the local economy and resident’s livelihoods’. The High Court rejected that argument saying cost is not to be considered in planning, only efficacy is to be considered. ‘I reject any suggestion that the state can have any regard to cost in fixing the target date for compliance or in determining the route by which the compliance can be achieved where one route produces results quicker than another. In those respects the determining consideration has to be the efficacy of the measure in question and not their cost’. The current air quality plans should be opposed until they meet legal standards.

Portsmouth lacks a safe cycling and pedestrian network, such as seen in Rotterdam and other cities. It is not clear that PCC is prioritizing active travel as a means to tackle air pollution. For instance, Portsmouth Cycle Forum recently objected to the proposed Seafront cycle route saying it was not safe. The proposed city centre road scheme is also overly focused on private vehicles and only does the bare minimum for active transport.

PCC’s plans only seem to extend to 2022. While achieving short term legal air pollution levels is important, it is also necessary to put in place a long term plan for continuous improvement of air quality. Council modelling seems to ignore the possibility of improvements to public transport, which should be a key part of an air quality strategy, to provide people with a practical alternative to car use. A credible air quality plan would have long term ambitious measures, as well as help for residents and businesses to adapt.


Further information

Let Pompey Breathe website: #LetPompeyBreathe is a joint initiative involving Portsmouth Green PartyPortsmouth Friends of The EarthMilton Neighbourhood ForumKeep Milton Green, Portsmouth Greenpeace, Greens in the European Parliament and other groups concerned with the dangerous state of Portsmouth’s Air Quality.

Portsmouth City Council: Clean Air Zone options for Portsmouth proposed

BBC News: Portsmouth council approves clean air charge plan


Tim’s deputation was originally published on the Let Pompey Breathe website