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The Necessary Interventions to Improve Air Quality - Local Election 2023

Written by Adrian Hill

My need to campaign for clean air began when I accepted the evidence that my asthma is made worse and even caused by the poor air quality I have been exposed to. The medical evidence for this link is well documented by organisations such as the World Health Organisation, British Medial Association and Public Health England.

The seriousness of my own lung disease has placed me in hospital a number of times with my life put at risk. Obviously I need and want clean air for myself but I also want it for the thousands of others whose health is adversely affected by poor air quality. Fortunately our city can make changes that will improve our air quality.

Diseases that are known to be caused, worsened or linked to air pollution include dementia, asthma, complications in pregnancy, mental health, lung cancer, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory infections and shorter lives. These are common diseases of course that can affect us and our loved ones.

City walkers, bus passengers, those waiting at taxi ranks, cyclists, residents, city workers and even motorists with young children on board are exposed to levels of pollution that can cause significant harm.

I try my best to focus less on party politics and more on the mechanisms that can improve air quality and spread awareness. However it is now local election time and it is important our new and re-elected councillors understand the best ways to improve air quality.

The key principles to improving air quality are: Reduce - emissions, Extend - the distance between the source of pollution and us & Protect - vulnerable people.

Air pollution is above World Health Organisation guideline levels everywhere in our city. On the most polluted roads pollution remains at illegal levels and over four times WHO guideline levels for health despite the latest data available (2021) having lower levels of traffic due to covid restrictions.

The worst performing measurements include Lewes Road, Hollingbury Road and North Street; all violating UK legal limits. Many of these roads are not just central ring roads like in other cities with the odd home but these are key active travel routes, the main walking routes for pupils making their way to school, locations for clinics and pharmacies and are homes to thousands of residents.

It will not be an easy task to improve air quality to the level the WHO recommends; it would require a reduction on these worst performing roads of over 80%. My feelings though are clear that every effort should be made to improve air quality quickly and effectively.

What can be done in our city to improve air quality?

A ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) is one of the most effective ways to improve traffic related air quality and only affects a small percentage of vehicles whilst avoiding an outright ban. London’s air quality improved by up to 44% after just a few years in central London and is currently expanding its zone from central and inner London to the whole of the city. I don’t want their dirty vehicles sold on the cheap to our city polluting us further; I want the same protection. Without a ULEZ our city will continue to be a polluted one.

The residential burning of wood and coal has increased over recent years. Solid fuel burning is now responsible for 17% of total UK particulate emissions. B&H is the largest city in England without a full Smoke Control Area to protect its residents. Not having a full area is a very unique position for a city with the population density of Brighton & Hove. Labour and Conservatives recently voted to delay expanding to a full zone even though a zone would continue to allow residents to use their burners but only require less polluting types of fuels.

Electrifying the public transport network should also be a key focus. All the city’s double decker buses are fueled exclusively by diesel (contrary to misinformation, none can be plugged in to charge; even the newest double deckers are fueled only by diesel). Less than 1% of taxis are fully electric, 75% of taxis are diesel with around 20% of those diesels non ULEZ compliant. As Sir Chris Whitty said in his annual report; harmful pollution from tyre and road wear would persist even with a fully electric transport network. Trams are three times more efficient than electric buses with hydrogen being the least efficient.

Cycling and walking are effectively pollution free modes of travel; it should be made safe and the routes pollution free. One way of achieving this is to build out the pavement to increase the distance between us and the source of the pollution.

New homes have been built on the most polluted roads in the city exposing new residents to harmful levels of pollution and restricting air dispersal (Hollingbury Road, London Road & Lewes Road developments). Some developments have replaced nature lined clean air walks, with car parks and roads (Moulsecoomb Hub) or have not taken advantage when straightforward opportunities to improve walking and cycling routes exist (Moulsecoomb Place). Is it time to strengthen the city plan to ensure developers better meet their clean air and active travel responsibilities?

Surely, the right to an environment that does not harm us should be a priority. In 2022 Green, Labour, Conservative and Independent councillors did agree to reduce air pollution in the latest five year air quality plan which was encouraging but without the necessary interventions required we in Brighton & Hove will continue to breathe polluted air.