Living next to the sea and surrounded by national park, you might think that Brighton and Hove is either immune, already protected or suffers only minimal levels of air pollution. But you would be wrong.
The most recently available official Air Quality Annual Status Report for our city shows the results of air quality monitors for the lockdown year of 2020.
Unfortunately, the data shows that our city, in 2020, still experienced a yearly average of the air pollutant nitrogen dioxide that violated UK legal limits on several roads and at levels that can seriously harm health.
Incredibly, illegal levels of air pollution existed during a year when the number of miles driven on our roads reduced by over 20 per cent when compared with 2019 and when, for extended times of the year, we were locked down and hardly drove.
The good news is that air quality throughout 2020 did improve at all monitors.
Some areas saw large improvements in air quality but other areas experienced only very minor improvements.
For example, air pollution in North Street and London Road, despite monitoring results showing that it was still above UK legal limits, reduced by 37 per cent and 31 per cent respectively, and Marlborough Place, by the Valley Gardens, reduced by 40 per cent.
However, only very small reductions in air pollution levels were recorded in Grand Parade opposite North Road, the A259 in Portslade and Hollingdean Road – 3 per cent, 3 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.
UK legal limits are not as stringent nor as up to date as World Health Organisation guideline limits. North Street, for instance, was five times more polluted in 2020 than those WHO guideline limits.
The unfortunate news is that those reductions in pollution levels are very likely to have been only temporary because traffic seems to have returned to levels seen in 2019.
The majority of the pollution found in the most polluted locations of our city, usually next to our busy roads and high streets, where the nitrogen dioxide levels are highest, is emitted from vehicles running on diesel or petrol.
Of these vehicles, it is the 10 per cent most polluting and older vehicles that are responsible for somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent of the pollution.
This small number of vehicles – responsible for such a large proportion of the pollution – are often owned privately, including by businesses. They are the easy wins that we should be concentrating on when looking to improve air quality.
A 2020 study estimated that up to 48 per cent of asthma cases in Barcelona were caused by air pollution. Studies like these help to highlight how much disease air pollution causes.
Fourteen per cent of us in Brighton and Hove have had asthma diagnosed – and a large number of those are likely to have the condition because of the dirty air in our city.
It is so important for our health to reduce air pollution. Dirty air also has strong links to lung cancer, CPOD, heart disease, developmental problems in children, strokes, diabetes, dementia and shorter lives.
Those exposed to the most air pollution are those living, working or studying near these busy roads and those walking, cycling and even driving on these routes.
A Clean Air Zone, also known as an Ultra Low Emission Zone, focuses on the 10 per cent dirtiest and most polluting of vehicles, with other vehicles entirely unaffected.
An independent report recommended a zone covering the whole 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 scheme and provide money for residents to receive cash for scrapping dirty vehicles, helping them upgrade to cleaner models and funding zero-emission public transport.
Those dirty vehicles would still be allowed to drive through the city but would be charged a small fee, possibly around £8 as in Birmingham, or about the cost of a day bus pass for two.
The Clean Air Zone, a government scheme to improve air quality, legally requires any profits to be spent on improvements that would clean up the air.
What are the 10 per cent of vehicles that produce so much pollution? Petrol vehicles older than about 2003 and diesel vehicles older than 2015, but with likely exemptions for local residents.
For as long as these older polluting vehicles remain on our roads, high levels of pollution, along with individual stories of air pollution-related disease, will always exist in our city.
I am asking people to support a strong and effective Clean Air Zone to target all our highly polluted and illegally polluted roads and improve air quality and health for everyone in our city.
I feel 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 much ill health when the tools exist to make improvements.
We also need to provide financial tools to help those who have dirty vehicles to upgrade them.
A Clean Air Zone does all these things. You can tell the council you want clean air by signing the petition for a Clean Air Zone here.
A Clean Air Zone is the most effective tool our council has to improve air quality. Air pollution in Brighton and Hove and the poor health outcomes of many is a solvable problem and we should have a plan as a matter of urgency.
Adrian Hill is an air quality campaigner who lives in Brighton.
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