Mapped: more than one thousand locations in England still breaching air pollution limits

“Failing to fix air pollution costs lives. It also shows a failure to address the climate crisis because the sources and solutions are intrinsically linked."
  Published:  29 Jul 2020    |      4 minute read

A data audit* by Friends of the Earth has revealed the 1,360 sites across England that have breached the annual Air Quality Objective for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels, which are set to protect health.

The leading cause of NO2 pollution is emissions from road traffic, which is also a huge source of climate-wrecking emissions. Friends of the Earth is campaigning to remove polluting vehicles from the road and clean up transport – to fight the climate crisis and to protect public health.

Although the most recent data shows a marginal improvement from previous years (last year’s audit found 1,591 English locations breaching limits) there is still a shocking number of locations exceeding the Air Quality Objective, which Local Authorities have to achieve. Some places show very high levels of exposure (up to 144% above the objective).

Click here for the air pollution map of England. A spreadsheet organised by region and local authority is available here.

England locations ranked by annual average level of NO2 (in ug/m3). The Annual Air Quality Objective is set at 40ug/m3.

  1. Chideock Hill, West Dorset 97.7
  2. Station Taxi Rank, Sheffield 91.7
  3. North Street Clock Tower, Brighton 90.8
  4. Neville Street Tunnel, Leeds 88
  5. Strand, City of Westminster 88
  6. Walbrook Wharf, City of London 87
  7. Hickleton opp Fir Tree Close, Doncaster 86
  8. Marylebone Road, City of Westminster 85
  9. Euston Road, London Borough of Camden 82.3
  10. Hickleton, John O’Gaunts, Doncaster 82

View top ten most polluted sites for each region here. For last year’s top 10 click here

Simon Bowens, clean air campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Failing to fix air pollution costs lives. It also shows a failure to address the climate crisis because the sources and solutions are intrinsically linked. If ministers want to avoid a return to the health-damaging and illegal levels of air pollution we had before lockdown, their enthusiasm for ‘active travel’ needs to be a permanent switch and not just a short-term gap plugger.

“The government must also end its damaging fixation on building more roads. You can’t justify this by planning to phase out polluting petrol and diesel vehicles and replace them with electric ones. We need to go much further than just getting out of one type of car and into another. Investment in better cycling and walking should be part of a fair and green post-coronavirus economic recovery plan aimed at creating a cleaner, fairer future.”

The government’s latest plan to boost the economy is a massive missed opportunity to deliver a green and fair recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery (which funds action against air pollution across the country) said:

“Air pollution affects us all. It’s the old, the young, the poor and the sick who suffer most. But we will all benefit from a reduction in vehicle emissions. Our towns and cities will be cleaner, more pleasant places to live and work and we’ll be helping to fight climate change too. I am proud that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting local projects across the country which are tackling air pollution and climate change. By working together, we really can make a difference.”

Notes:

  1. *Data has been accessed from the most recent local authority Air Quality Annual Status Reports (ASRs) submitted to Government. The results are all bias corrected, and distance-adjusted where appropriate. In some cases, this data is provisional and awaiting approval from DEFRA.
    • Air Quality Annual Status Reports (ASRs) are compiled using the previous year’s data. This means that in most cases the most up to date air quality data was collected in 2018, but where a local authority has submitted its ASR using 2019 data this has been reflected in the audit.
    • Annual data for 2020 will be released in 2021.
  2. In order to meet the Annual Air Quality Objective, set under the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) regime, a site must have an annual average Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) level below 40ug/m3, which is set at the same level as the Legal Limit Value the government must meet.
  3. This data audit follows ONS data released in June which showed that transport as a sector is failing to make big enough reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to fight the climate crisis
  4. See here for more information on sources of NO2 pollution and here for more information on the health risks of NO2 pollution
  5. Transport is responsible for over a quarter of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, and was the single largest emitting sector of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 (the most recent figures) . It's also a major source of air pollution – which is linked to up to 36,000 early deaths a year in the UK. Friends of the Earth is calling for urgent government action to slash climate wrecking emissions from transport and improve air quality. Read more here
    • The UK must phase out high polluting diesel and petrol cars and vans, more rapidly than the government propose – by 2030, rather than 2032 or 2035. There must also be a government-led scrappage scheme to help people move away from the most polluting vehicles (with car club membership and alternatives to driving such as rail season tickets being offered), and motor manufacturers who have contributed to the UK’s air pollution crisis should be made to cough up to help fund such a scheme.
    • Investment in clean, affordable and reliable public transport.
    • An improvement in infrastructure to support alternatives to driving, such as safe cycling and walking.
    • Road traffic needs to be reduced – a cut of 20-60% in car miles by 2030 to meet climate change targets. This will also help meet air pollution targets as all vehicles produce particle air pollution from tyre and brake wear, so switching to electric vehicles is only part of the solution.
    • Traffic generating schemes such as airport expansion and road building which would add to the air pollution problem must be scrapped. Scrapping airport expansion and roadbuilding programmes is also essential to meeting climate targets.
    • The UK must move to World Health Organisation Standards for air pollution, and these must be incorporated into the Environment Bill, as called for by the Healthy Air Campaign (of which Friends of the Earth is a partner), as well as many city leaders. The full guidelines from the WHO can be read here, though standards are being reviewed due to finding health effects at lower levels.