Brighton and Hove News » We urgently need a clean air zone – here’s how you can help

Living by the sea and surrounded by a national park, you might think that Brighton and Hove are either immune, already protected, or suffer from minimal levels of air pollution. But you would be wrong.

The latest official annual air quality report available for our city shows the results of air quality monitors for the 2020 lockdown year.

Unfortunately, the data shows that our city, in 2020, still experienced an annual average of air polluting nitrogen dioxide that breached UK legal limits on several roads and at levels that can seriously damage health.

Incredibly, illegal levels of air pollution have existed in a year where the number of miles traveled on our roads is down more than 20% from 2019 and where for long periods of the year , we were locked in and barely drove.

The good news is that air quality throughout 2020 has improved across all monitors.

Some areas have seen big improvements in air quality, but other areas have only seen very minor improvements.

For example, air pollution in North Street and London Road, despite monitoring results showing it was still above UK legal limits, was reduced by 37% and 31% respectively, and of Marlborough Place, near Valley Gardens, reduced by 40%.

However, only very small reductions in air pollution levels have been recorded at Grand Parade opposite North Road, the A259 at Portslade and Hollingdean Road – 3%, 3% and 10% respectively.

UK legal limits are not as strict or up-to-date as World Health Organization guideline limits. North Street, for example, was five times more polluted in 2020 than WHO guideline limits.

The unfortunate news is that these reductions in pollution levels were most likely only temporary, as traffic appears to have returned to levels seen in 2019.

The majority of the pollution found in the most polluted places in our city, usually next to our busy roads and main streets, where nitrogen dioxide levels are highest, is emitted by vehicles running on diesel or gasoline.

Among these vehicles, the 10% most polluting and oldest vehicles are responsible for 30 to 40% of the pollution.

This small number of vehicles – responsible for so much of the pollution – is often owned by individuals, including businesses. These are the easy wins we should focus on when looking to improve air quality.

A 2020 study estimated that up to 48% of asthma cases in Barcelona were caused by air pollution. Studies like these help highlight the extent of illness caused by air pollution.

Fourteen per cent of us in Brighton and Hove have been diagnosed with asthma – and many of them are at risk of getting the disease from our city’s polluted air.

Reducing air pollution is so important to our health. Dirty air also has strong links to lung cancer, CPOD, heart disease, developmental problems in children, stroke, diabetes, dementia and shorter lives.

Those most at risk from air pollution are those who live, work or study near these busy roads and those who walk, cycle and even drive on these roads.

A clean air zone, also known as an ultra-low emission zone, focuses on the dirtiest and most polluting 10% of vehicles, with other vehicles completely unaffected.

An independent report recommended a zone covering all of Brighton and Hove but would exempt residents until 2030, along with exemptions for other groups.

Clean Air Zones allow for government funding to set up the program and provide cash for residents to receive cash for scrapping dirty vehicles, helping them switch to cleaner models and finance zero-emission public transport.

Photo by Rufa A-zade/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

These filthy vehicles would still be allowed to cross the city, but would be charged a small fee, perhaps around £8 as in Birmingham, or around the cost of a one-day bus pass for two.

The Clean Air Zone, a government program to improve air quality, legally requires that all profits be spent on improvements that would purify the air.

Which 10% of vehicles produce so much pollution? Gasoline vehicles older than around 2003 and diesel vehicles older than 2015, but with likely exemptions for local residents.

As long as these old polluting vehicles remain on our roads, high levels of pollution, as well as individual stories of air pollution-related illnesses, will still exist in our city.

I ask people to support a strong and effective Clean Air Zone to target all of our heavily polluted and illegally polluted roads and improve the air quality and health of everyone in our city.

I believe our city should be a healthy place to live, work and play. Such a small percentage of our vehicles shouldn’t be allowed to cause so many health issues when the tools exist to make improvements.

We must also provide financial tools to help those who have dirty vehicles to modernize them.

A clean air zone does all of these things. You can tell the council you want clean air by signing the clean air zone petition here.

A clean air zone is the most effective tool our council has to improve air quality. The air pollution in Brighton and Hove and the poor health outcomes of many is a problem that can be solved and we should have a plan urgently.

Adrian Hill is an air quality campaigner who lives in Brighton.

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