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Friends of the Earth > Local Groups > Nottingham Friends of the Earth

Why won't Nottingham get a Clean Air Zone? (Sep 2018)

Following a consultation, Nottingham City Council has decided not to implement a Clean Air Zone - which would aim to bring the city's air pollution levels into legal compliance as soon as possible. They claim that their current investment in cleaner buses and other vehicles will be enough to bring the city centre into compliance. And predictions of continuing high pollution levels on the ring road were revised downwards. No action is being proposed to tackle the most polluting cars - which are the main problem outside of the city centre.

But Nottingham still has illegal levels of air pollution.

Fine particles kill around 36,000 people in the UK every year, mostly from traffic pollution – including around 150 in Nottingham City and 430 in the rest of the County. More are killed by nitrogen dioxide, particularly from diesel vehicles. The overall cost to society is around £20bn each year.

Robin Hood supports a Clean Air Zone

British Lung Foundation data shows: “People in and around Nottingham are already disproportionately likely to suffer from respiratory problems compared to the national average:

  • 38% more likely to be admitted to hospital for asthma
  • 25% more likely to die from asthma
  • 92% more likely to be admitted to hospital for COPD
  • 41% more likely to die from COPD than the national average”

In spite of a number of Air Quality Management Areas being declared over fifteen years ago, many cities in the UK, including Nottingham[1], had failed to meet EU limits on air pollution by 2015 (which should have been met by 2010).

Following action in the courts by an activist legal group Client Earth, the government eventually produced an Action Plan at the end of 2015 requiring non-compliant local authorities, including Nottingham, to implement Clean Air Zones “to reduce NO2 levels to the necessary level in the shortest possible time and by 2020 at the latest”.

Clean Air Zones would mean restricting or charging vehicles which don’t meet required pollution standards.

Client Earth had to keep going back to the courts to order the government to act more quickly and to allow for evidence that the actual pollution from vehicles is higher than in lab tests. In May 2018 the European Commission referred the UK’s lack of action to the Court of Justice.

Examples of action already taken by Nottingham City Council (which Nottingham Friends of the Earth supports) includes:

  • Workplace Parking Levy (which helps to reduce commuting by car as well as funding the tram,etc);
  • Low emission vehicles
  • Electric vehicles, and electric charging points;
  • Promoting business travel plans and ‘Smarter Choices’;
  • Improved routes for walking and cycling;
  • Support for electrification of the Midland Mainline.

This means traffic levels within the city centre have been reducing and pollution levels are falling. But pollution is still above World Health Organisation guidelines. The City Council says it supports these guidelines, but has failed to consult on how to achieve them.

Nottingham hasn’t even yet achieved the less ambitious EU limits for air pollution set 20 years ago. It is unfortunate that both the government and the City Council seem to want to do as little as possible as slowly as possible to meet only the legal EU limits.

What Nottingham City Council is proposing

  • tackling unnecessary idling, especially outside schools;
  • enhancing the city centre Clear Zone to allow exclusion of the most polluting vehicles;
  • investing in cleaner buses, cleaner council vehicles, and cleaner taxis.

(The City's plan which has been submitted to the government is now on the Council's website.)

What we say they should also be doing

  • reduce traffic levels overall, recognising that nearly half of particulate pollution from vehicles is caused by brakes and tyre wear (and also recognising the need to reverse increasing climate emissions from road traffic);
  • promote active travel – investment to make cycling and walking easier (as a comparison, Edinburgh adopted a target of spending 5% of transport budget on cycling in 2012, increasing gradually to 10% in the current year, and also a target of 10% of all journeys and 15% of travel to work by cycle by 2020) – with an emphasis on use of Quietways (as in London, noting for example that NO2 levels on Castle Boulevard have been measured as double those on the parallel canal towpath);
  • promote Safe Routes to School – which will reduce car journeys to school, improving air quality as well as safety around schools;
  • increase planting of trees and shrubs alongside busy roads to help absorb some pollution;
  • a scrappage scheme for dirty diesels – with options for people to shift to fully electric cars, electric bikes, or public transport season tickets;
  • use of the planning system to reduce the need for car travel;
  • promote personalised travel plans in more workplaces;
  • recognition of the importance of bus services linked to more comprehensive provision of park and ride sites around the boundary of the conurbation, and more comprehensive bus services into surrounding villages;
  • better support for seamless ticketing across operators (i.e. Robin Hood card) and for payment by card or phone – and ideally a passenger transport authority to integrate services across Greater Nottingham.

The government’s own data show that the quickest way of driving down air pollution due to traffic would be a Clean Air Zone to charge or ban all polluting vehicles including cars (Class D CAZ). Such a CAZ would be most effective if it covered the whole city, including the ring road. It is unfortunate that planning for such a CAZ didn’t start at least in 2015 when the Courts ordered urgent action.

In the longer term, tackling air pollution will require action across the UK road network as a whole. It is welcome (and long overdue) that the National Infrastructure Commission in its 2018 Assessment says that it will be exploring options for ‘road pricing’ to charge vehicles for road use. That would allow differential pricing to encourage less polluting vehicles as well as reducing congestion.

The Director of Public Health reported on the impact of air pollution to the City Wellbeing Board in October 2014. Actions suggested included:

  • Nearly 80% of car trips under five miles could be replaced by walking, cycling or using public transport;
  • Promote active travel amongst local authority staff and major employers
  • Improve street environments to prioritise walkability over cars;
  • Inform susceptible individuals of the risks of air pollution and how to take avoiding action;
  • Organise ‘eco-driving’ training for taxi drivers, for example to avoid engine idling;
  • Replace boilers with least polluting models;
  • Ensure new buildings are air quality neutral;
  • Make full use of local authority powers to regulate types of traffic and traffic flows.

Friends of the Earth recommendations for individuals include:

  • Leave the car at home (one trial found that car drivers are exposed to twice the air pollution compared to walking the same route, and 8 times the exposure of cycling);
  • Walk away from the road edge;
  • Avoid congested routes whether in a car or bus, cycling or walking;
  • If driving, when stopped turn off the engine;
  • Take note of pollution alerts;
  • To reduce indoor air pollution: open windows, use natural cleaning products (and avoid air fresheners), don’t smoke, maintain boilers and cookers;
  • Note that plants and trees catch air pollution so prefer walking through green areas – and get planting!

[1] Nottingham City currently has two Air Quality Management Areas – covering roads around the city centre and Dunkirk Island on the ring road. There are also AQMAs in surrounding boroughs:

  • Rushcliffe – roads leading to Trent Bridge
  • Gedling – A60, Daybrook
  • Broxtowe – next to M1 at Trowell and Nuthall
  • Erewash – next to M1 at Long Eaton and Sandiacre