Something for the Weekend: It’s Not Easy Being Green

This week Ian Morris looks at the ongoing controversy and local debate on Portsmouth’s Clean Air Zone, and a recent decision by the Council to remove two of the busiest roads in the city from the scheme.

Its not easy being green

I believe it was the great philosopher Kermit the frog who first mused on this particular challenge, in a time where this was more of a literal challenge than a philosophical one. This week in Portsmouth, a fairly major spat has broken out over the proposed clean air zone. 

Portsmouth is one of the most densly populated cities in the UK and this has a bearing on air quality. We are lucky enough to have a motorway running right into the heart of the city but once you get close, don’t expect to be bothering third gear and above too often. A couple of years ago, Portsmouth City Council voted to declare a climate emergency, a very bold statement followed closely by discussions about a clean air zone. This, in effect, means like the congestion charge in London if you are driving an older, more polluting vehicle then you are going to have to cough up a crispy £20 note or similar every time you drive your vehicle into the heart of the city. 

[Editor’s note: as reported by the BBC, the council’s CAZ consultation proposed ‘charges of £50 per day for buses, coaches and lorries, and £10 for taxis, vans and minibuses, in a bid to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide. Privately owned cars and motorbikes would be unaffected.’

Clean Air Zones were introduced by the UK government and imposed on a number of local authority areas after the government lost a legal case in 2015, ‘brought by environmental law organisation ClientEarth, which insisted not enough was being done after the UK breached EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a gas produced by diesel vehicles which can decrease lung function.’]

Many have argued that this CAZ should apply across the whole city, and this is a noble green idea, except that: the port would be knackered in a  heartbeat, businesses would look to relocate, and any tradespeople who are scooting about the city in their white vans are going to have to suck air even harder through their teeth muttering, ‘Sorry Guv, this is going to cost.’ 

So, the council folks got their pens out and started excluding bits. Now the HGVs can now get to and from the port, the less busy bits didn’t have to worry and all that was left was the M275 going into the heart of the city and some parallel roads the other side of the Charles Dickens ward.

For those of you not familiar with this area, it is rather hard done by. It is one of the more deprived wards in the city yet and there are high levels of deprivation, it has one of the highest rates of air pollution but by far the lowest rate of car ownership in the city (37%), so there would have been plenty who were happy to see either side of them charging – and hopefully reducing – polluting vehicles. 

At the Council Cabinet meeting this week, the decision was taken to shrink the zone still further and remove two  major roads from the scheme – Fratton Road and Kingston Crescent. Obviously, this has caused massive consternation and a fair degree of finger-pointing and questioning of green credentials between councillors.

This is the fundamental problem with green transport: we all agree on the problem – there are too many cars. I  don’t have a car, so I can look down on you in a pious and virtuous way, but I can also let you into a secret – using public transport is absolutely stinkpot.

I live five minutes from a railway station. I went to Gunwharf the other day by train; there are just two trains an hour. We just missed one and spent a beautiful 27 minutes sitting on Portsmouth Harbour station listening to the rubbish blow about.

If you have to go further afield then be prepared to start selling major organs on eBay, because a day return to Leamington Spa with my disabled person’s railcard comes in at £110. It’s a good job I don’t travel anymore. 

So back to the city. We have been playing with resident parking zones – a game of traffic based whack-a-mole where you give permits to residents so they can all park, and then all the people who now can’t park go into the next zone where you don’t need a permit, they drive around for a bit until they can find a space, all the time pouring out pollutants.

The answer? A city-wide parking zone! Unless you are a Portsmouth resident you can’t park in the city, this will also reduce the traffic and cure the air pollution! 

Except for the impact on visitors to all of the historic attractions, the people who work here, the businesses that rely on out of town shoppers, and so on…

It’s not easy being green indeed. My fear is we are going to keep agreeing on what the problem is, but not the answers to it. Meanwhile, I am part of the solution because I don’t drive.

But if I could, I would. 


Find out more:

You can watch the Full Cabinet meeting discussing the Clean Air Zone, read the results of the Council’s consultation on the CAZ, and read a transcript from the Let Pompey Breathe air quality campaign. You can find out more about Clean Air Zones at the BBC and Air Quality News.


Something for the Weekend will be back next Friday, tackling national issues from a local perspective. In the meantime, you can check out all of Ian’s writing for S&C, here, along with past editions of the Pompey Politics Podcast.

Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay.

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