Michael Gove asserted recently that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” But he was wrong. We need them now, more than ever. Expert evidence forms the basis of our knowledge of climate change and air pollution, and will help us work towards solutions. In Southampton, air pollution seems to be an intractable problem, but one that fortunately we have the expertise to solve.
In mid-July, academics, council officers, industry representatives and campaigners were gathered together at a workshop hosted by the University of Southampton. The hope is that this is the first step towards developing an effective policy for tackling dirty air in Southampton and creating a model for other port cities to follow.
In his introduction, Professor Mikis Tsimplis got straight to the heart of the matter by stating that serious atmospheric pollution from road…
Every year in the UK it is estimated that 29,000 premature deaths are caused by poor air quality. Approximately 6% of all mortalities in Southampton have been attributed to air pollution – almost 200 per year. (For a detailed explanation of how this new figure has been reached, please click here.)
In our complex and rapidly changing modern society, we – the people – have to have an open and honest discussion about what level of pollution is acceptable to us. We have to decide what compromises or costs we are prepared to accept to achieve an acceptable environmental quality, especially in our towns and cities where the majority of the world’s population is concentrated. When it comes to air pollution…
On Wednesday, 13th April the Smogmobile travelled across Southampton, measuring nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM10) as it went. It started at Tesco, Bursledon at 8am, went along the A3024 past Thornhill and towards Bitterne. It turned right up Bullar Road and left down Cobden Avenue and then over Cobden Bridge to Portswood.
From Portswood, it went via Onslow Road to Jury’s Inn and then turned north up The Avenue and left into Archers Road to Hill Lane. At Hill Lane the Smogmobile turned north and went as far as the Sports Centre roundabout and then left along Winchester Road to the lights at the Romsey Road/Shirley High Street crossroads. Here it turned left and went the whole length of Shirley High Street and Shirley Road to Four Post Hill and then past the Civic Centre and Asda, under the West Quay tunnel and down Castle Way where it turned left into Below Bar and parked up at West Quay for press interviews and filming.
Early afternoon, the Smogmobile went back to the Civic Centre via the West Quay tunnel and then back up Shirley Road and Shirley High Street, along Romsey Road to Lordshill and turned left along Brownhill Road to the M271, where it turned left to Redbridge roundabout and then left towards Millbrook roundabout, where it turned left and drove into Millbrook Estate. It went along Kendal Avenue to Cuckmere Lane and Redbridge Community College. Then it returned to Central Station via the A33 and did a u-turn back along the A33 to Redbridge roundabout and exited the City on the M271.
The data produced by the Smogmobile is shown in the attached maps and charts. The Managing Director of Enviro Technology, which supplied the Smogmobile said:
“Our observations show that the average NO2 concentration over the day (between 8am to 3:30pm) of all the routes we drove and during the time we were parked up at West Quay was 63.15 µg/m3, which is over 50% higher than the annual limit value of 40 µg/m3.”
Southampton City Council announced last week that a “clean air zone” will be introduced on a voluntary basis from next year. It will not be enforced until 2019 and will only target commercial vehicles (buses, coaches, lorries, taxis, vans). Liz Batten of Clean Air Southampton argues:
This is far too little, too slow, and doesn’t take account of the health risk. Private cars will still be allowed into the City with no controls or alternatives in place, and we know that they can emit many times the permitted levels of harmful chemicals (1). A recent review of studies has shown that a Clean Air Zone is unlikely to reduce the pollution we are exposed to (2)
During the visit of the Smogmobile to the City last week, levels of nitrogen dioxide (one of the harmful pollutants emitted by diesel engines) were found to be consistently above permitted levels throughout the day. Colin MacQueen, co-founder of Clean Air Southampton said:
This is an urgent public health issue, and the City Council must encourage changes to the way we travel in the City by putting people’s health and wellbeing first, not vehicles first. At a time when vision and action are needed, the role of Public Health in the City is being diminished and the role of the Health and Wellbeing Board, which has air quality in its remit, is not yet sufficiently established. After the May elections the next administration must create a more coherent approach to driving down air pollution in Southampton. We would like to hear from all the parties what their plans are for clean air in our City.
A breath of desperately needed fresh air is coming to Southampton this week with 2 events focusing on air pollution in our city. Wednesday 13th April sees the launch of Clean Air Southampton, our local campaign group on air quality. The team will be taking to the streets to help combat Southampton’s air pollution, which ranks among the worst in the UK. As part of the launch they will be monitoring air quality around the city, explaining how dangerous breathing bad air can be, how individuals can protect themselves, and putting pressure on local and national government to do much more for clean air in the city.
And without pausing to catch our breath, Friday 15th, 6.30-8pm brings the return of the popular Researchers’ Café also focusing on air quality. This informal event will take place at Mettricks, 117 High Street, SO14 2AA – everyone welcome!
Is unpolluted air possible to obtain in a modern industrial society? with Professor Ian Williams
Types of air pollution and their potential effects on our health, with Dr Matt Loxham
Road Traffic and Southampton’s Poor Air Quality, with PhD student Matt Grote
To kick things off, the Clean Air Southampton duo will be hosting a visit from a Smogmobile – an electric van which continually monitors air quality as it drives along roads. It will start during the morning rush hour in the East of the city on Wednesday 13thApril, go via West Quay, and then take in the West of the city during the afternoon school run and evening commute.
“We have heard a lot about poor air quality lately, and Southampton is one of the cities most affected in the UK,” says co-founder Liz Batten. “Clean Air Southampton aims to keep up the pressure to remove diesel engines from the city through support for a scrappage scheme, a low emission zone, better integrated low emission public transport, electrification of the port and the railways, and modernisation of gas central heating boilers.”
The Smogmobile will also be parked up outside the main entrance to West Quay on Above Bar at lunchtime on 13th April. The Clean Air Southampton team will have maps showing the air pollution hotspots in the city – come along and find out about the air quality near homes, offices and schools.
Clean Air Southampton was founded and is managed by Southampton residents Liz Batten (Transition Southampton) and Colin MacQueen (Western Docks Consultation Forum).