Is the Council Serious About Improving Air Quality?

Portsmouth City Council (PCC) will decide today whether to introduce a new air pollution monitoring station ahead of the possible implementation of a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in 2021, but a local campaigner is concerned the decision is more to do with avoiding the ‘imposition’ of a CAZ by the government than with improving air quality. Sarah Cheverton reports.

In September 2019, the Council announced the introduction of a CAZ (Class B), which would mean a daily charge for older, more polluting buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, and heavy goods vehicles. Petrol vehicles that are Euro 4 or newer, and diesel vehicles that are Euro 6 or newer would not be charged, nor would private vehicles.

Cllr Dave Ashmore, PCC’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change, said in September that: ‘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.’

At today’s meeting, the Council will decide whether to:

  • introduce an additional air quality monitoring station near the Catholic Cathedral
  • the use of alternative ‘low-cost’ monitoring devices

The agenda for the meeting notes that these options are ‘considered to be measures that can be delivered as quickly as or more quickly than a charging Clean Air Zone can be made operational. JAQU [the Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit] consider that a charging CAZ could be operational in Portsmouth by the end of 2021; therefore other measure[s] must be capable of being delivered by this date to be considered’.

However, local air quality campaigner for Let Pompey Breathe, Tim Sheerman-Chase is concerned that the Council are already planning to remove the CAZ before it’s even been introduced.

In the background report to today’s meeting, the Council state:

The CAZ will remain in force until there is firm evidence that an improvement in NO2 levels below limit value requirements have been achieved and maintained. PCC will therefore need to undertake appropriate monitoring and assessment of air quality levels in order to evaluate whether the measures implemented through the LAQP [Local Air Quality Plan] are having the anticipated impact, need adjusting, or are still needed if they have accomplished their air quality improvement outcomes.

Writing for local campaign for improved air quality, Let Pompey Breathe, Tim Sheerman-Chase said, ‘The motivation seems to be they want to know when the proposed Clean Air Zone can be removed after air quality improves.’ He is further concerned that the Council are ‘focusing on doing the absolute minimum rather than protecting public health.’

Quoted in independent news website, Air Quality News, Councillor Ashmore said, ‘I am interested to read and discuss the recommendations, as understanding the levels of air pollution within the city is important in making future decisions so that we can go further than just maintaining compliance with government levels.’

In a deputation to the Council shared on S&C in November 2019 on the council’s plans for a CAZ, Tim Sheerman-Chase questioned whether a class B CAZ would be enough to address the city’s air quality issues, saying:

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.

…The Council is in a difficult position because it doesn’t seem to have the resources to tackle the air pollution problem independently and DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs] will only fund the minimum scheme needed to reach legal pollution levels. If councillors go along with the mini-CAZ class B, which is the minimum based on DEFRA specified modelling, they are likely to fail in achieving legal pollution levels any time soon. If they object to DEFRA’s methodology, they fear they may get no funding at all. It’s either crumbs or nothing for Portsmouth, it seems.

Today’s meeting takes place at 10am and will be broadcast on the Council’s webcast here.

Image by shilin wang from Pixabay.


#LetPompeyBreathe is a joint initiative involving Portsmouth Green PartyPortsmouth Friends of The EarthMilton Neighbourhood ForumKeep Milton Green, Portsmouth GreenpeaceGreens in the European Parliament and other groups ‘concerned with the dangerous state of Portsmouth’s Air Quality’. Visit their website for more information and follow them on Facebook and on Twitter using #LetPompeyBreathe.


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