Cornwall Air Quality Forum

This conference was held on June 14th and described how requirements of the National Air Quality Strategy (NAQS) are being addressed by transport planning.

The opening paper (“Air quality action plans – what is expected of Local Authorities?”) was delivered by Rupert Furness from the DETR – the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions – though after cabinet changes the responsibilities of the DETR are now shared between DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and DTLR (Department for Transport, Local Government and Regions).

Rupert Furness described the statutory obligations of LAs to address air quality issues in accordance with Part IV of the 1995 Environment Act. One aspect of their statutory obligations is the need to designate Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) if certain air quality criteria are not reached at any site in a LA district.

In relation to AQMAs and motor vehicle pollution, attention was focused on town centre air quality and the two vehicle-related pollutants which need to be monitored – airborne particulate matter (responsible for £60bn of health-related costs per year in the UK) and nitrogen dioxide (a marker for the many air pollutants emitted by vehicles and a pollutant in its own right). If air quality is worse than the NAQS standard an AQMA is designated and then – in accordance with a balanced, proportionate and cost-effective approach – the LAs develop an Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP), ” . . . the local authority has a duty to prepare . . . a written plan . . . in pursuit of the achievement of air quality standards and objectives in the designated area.” (Sec. 84(2)(b), Environment Act 1995)

Of the 130 AQMAs likely to be designated in spring 2001 95% will be traffic-related and most will be in congested town centres.

AQAPs will include traffic management measures (such as the re-routing of traffic and the development of PAR (Park-and-Ride) schemes), the declaration of LEZs (Low Emission Zones – where only low emission vehicles are allowed), the development of partnerships with bus operators, schools, colleges etc. and powers for road-user charging, workplace parking levies and emission testing powers.

Guy Hitchcock (Transport & Travel Research Ltd) then gave a paper entitled “Clear Zones – supporting an integrated approach to air quality action plans” which gave one type of action plan which could help LAs improve air quality in a town centre where air pollution is caused by traffic. The paper defined a Clear Zone (CZ) as seeking, ” . . . to provide a liveable, accessible and lively urban centre where traffic congestion, pollution, noise and other negative impacts of mobility are eliminated or limited, through the implementation of a package of transport related measures using innovative technologies.”

The CZ strategy was developed with support from both the Dti Foresight Program and from the DETR. CZs are integrated into local planning concepts via Local Plans and use a variety of strategies (20 mph speed limits, Time-of-Day (TOD) access restrictions, priority systems for buses etc.) and promote clean vehicle technologies. Nine ‘Clear Zone Trailblazers’ have been set up in the UK (e.g. car free housing zones in Camden, LEZs in Leicester, CZs in Bristol and Nottingham) and these will be appraised over the next 3 years. (WWW.CLEARZONES.ORG.UK)

“Bus initiatives and quality partnerships” was delivered by Kevin Gardner (London Bus Initiative) and described a range of measures designed to reduce pollution by increasing the use of buses. The issues which had to be tackled were identified as poor passenger satisfaction with: the length of journey time (13%), the length of waiting time (13%), staff behaviour (8%), crowding (6%), comfort (6%) and personal safety at the bus stop (6%).

Bus emissions were tackled by using better quality diesel fuels, retrofitting buses with particulate traps and catalysts, accelerating the introduction of cleaner engines (Euro III & IV models) and piloting alternative fuels. Journey times were reduced by priority lanes (enforced by CCTV), traffic signal linked to vehicle (bus) actuated devices, bus network improvements, easy ticketing and bus stop improvements. Currently a 1.8% shift to buses has been observed – for London this is an increase of 5.5 billion passengers per km travelled per year.

Two subsequent papers (The role of company travel plans – John Elliott (Pfizer Ltd.) and Safe routes to schools and school travel plans – Paul Osborne (Sustrans) – www.saferoutestoschools.org.uk; schools@sustrans.org.uk; www.youngtransnet.org.uk) dealt with particular aspects of transport planning which would reduce car use and improve air quality.

The afternoon session gave case-studies of traffic management actions which were designed to reduce air quality exceedances of NAQS guideline pollutant levels. “Bristol – assembling a package of options” (Peter Fryer, Bristol City Council), “Leicester – a co-ordinated approach” (Nick Hodges, Leicester City Council),”Camden – local and regional solutions to delivering cleaner air in central London” (Anna Rickard, London Borough of Camden) and “York – linking transport plans and air quality action” (Martin Revill & Andy Hudson, City of York Council).

The case studies described sophisticated air quality monitoring systems linked to traffic flow control systems and predictive computer simulations which allow for near real-time traffic management to be undertaken in such a way as to minimise pollutant levels. In addition some imaginative planning decisions in relation to new developments – parking spaces, car free residential areas, etc. – went hand-in-hand with public transport improvements and alternative fuel technologies. In all cases it seems that the declaration of AQMAs offered opportunities for LAs to act imaginatively in creating more environmentally advanced urban areas with large quality of life gains for residents.

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