Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Brighton promises to action to cut air pollution as EU fines are threatened and councillor Pete West says new developments must minimise motor journeys and pay for sustainable transport

3 July 2012. A Brighton and Hove City Council press release predicted measures to cut pollution, caused mainly by motor vehicles - and avoid the risk of EU pollution fines.

Chair of the environment committee Councillor Pete West said: "Hazardous air quality caused by vehicles remains a stubborn problem. This is one reason why we're so keen to help people use alternatives to the car. That means making it safer and more pleasant to walk and cycle. We also need to ensure buses aren't caught in queues of cars so that public transport provides a quicker alternative. It would also be good to see more low-emission buses, lorries and vans.

"So we're proposing to use a combination of planning and transport measures to try to make the place more pleasant and healthy. This could mean for example that new developments must minimise additional vehicle journeys and help pay for alternatives. Or when modifying our transport network we make sure low-emission modes of transport are well catered for."

The news follows publication of a council report that recommends a combination of transport and planning measures to address the problem. Long-term monitoring since 1996 shows levels have exceed EU limits high at locations like the Vogue Gyratory system on Brighton’s Lewes Road. Unless things change for the better the city risks being fined under EU legislation, according to the council report.

The top three most polluted streets in the city are North Street, Viaduct Road and part of the Lewes Road. Pollution levels consistently hover around one and a half times EU legal average levels for nitrogen dioxide – a gas which causes illness and shortens life expectancy – especially among already-vulnerable people.

The vast majority of monitoring sites in the city centre show average pollution exceeding legal limits. Forty six out of 63 locations recorded levels exceeding EU targets during 2011.

The city council recently announced a £6m plan to ease traffic congestion on Lewes Road. Subject to public consultation, this could see half the dual carriageway’s width between the Vogue Gyratory and Falmer turned over to bus and bike lanes. 

The council statement said: "Pollution outside the city centre has reduced, along with levels of lead, benzene and carbon monoxide. This means places where most tend to live are healthier than 10 or 20 years ago."

The report to the environment committee on July 11 can be seen on the council’s website here.

A national problem
The report says similar cities face the same problems, including York, Oxford and Cambridge.

National legislation – the Environmental Protection Act 1995 - requires councils to set up air quality management areas to tackle pollution hotspots.  Brighton and Hove's first air quality management area was set up in 2004. It covered a Y-shaped area running from the Old Steine, northwards and splitting along the London Road and Lewes Road. In 2008 the area was extended, largely to the west to accommodate a group of busy main roads as far as Portslade.

The EU legal limit on one main pollutant, nitrogen dioxide is 40 micrograms per cubic metre. Monitors in North Street indicate concentrations of 79; Viaduct Road 70 and Lewes Road 65. The council has until 2013 to meet the target, although the government is to lobby the EU for a longer deadline – to 2015.

Fines levied on the government by the EU could be passed onto councils. EU fines can run to multi-million pound sums depending on severity and duration of non-compliance. Concentrations of pollution are affected by both vehicles and the physical shape of streets and their buildings. Diesel engines and older petrol vehicles cause more pollution. Narrow streets with high buildings, such as St James’s Street, tend to concentrate fumes by reducing natural ventilation.

More: Greens blame previous Tory admin for ignoring rising pollution

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