Labour councillor Trevor Muten recently announced that there were no plans for an “ultra low emission zone” (ULEZ) in Brighton and Hove.
I hear many Brighton and Hove drivers celebrate by revving their engines and tooting their horns in a frenzy of giddy excitement!
Soberingly, there is another side to this debate – those who have diseases caused or worsened by air pollution.
Some of us won’t even know our own lives or our sensitive child’s lungs have been impacted until later in life or when our lives have been shortened. For some, air pollution may be the cause of a life of suffering and lost opportunities.
Just in case you didn’t already know, air pollution at the levels we breathe in Brighton and Hove causes a whole host of illnesses, suffering and lost life.
Contrary to disinformation, emissions don’t just blow away in our city. In the council’s own 2023 annual air quality report, 12 locations showed illegal levels of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide).
And all 80 violated WHO (World Health Organisation) guidelines for health. It was disappointing that this information wasn’t publicised as it is a public health concern.
When air quality is at illegal levels, the government requires an “Air Quality Action Plan” be submitted to show how the local council is planning to reduce air pollution.
It is the responsibility of the local council to produce the plan. It did – and the plan was approved by all parties last year.
Among many other interventions to reduce harmful air pollution, it included progressing an expanded ULEZ. Out of all the interventions, the ULEZ was deemed by far the most effective measure to reduce harmful NO2 air pollution.
Why is a ULEZ so effective in improving air quality? Older diesel vehicles emit far larger amounts of harmful NO2 pollution compared with other vehicles. Mostly, those vehicles are the ones implicated in the Volkswagen (VW) emissions scandal and vehicles older than 20 years.
Many cities in the UK have already implemented a ULEZ and many cities in Europe have banned those diesel vehicles outright to reduce the amount of harmful pollution next to roads.
It is impossible to reduce NO2 from road transport without tackling those older diesel vehicles and it is unrealistic to tackle diesel without a ULEZ or by banning them outright.
Thankfully around 90 per cent of private cars in Brighton and Hove are ULEZ compliant but the number of vehicles that remain cause the majority of NO2 pollution.
Just announcing a ULEZ reduces air pollution as people buy new vehicles, ensuring they are ULEZ compliant.
Announcing that there is not going to be a ULEZ, as the Labour councillor recently did, one would expect would have the opposite effect. People might be more likely to buy old secondhand polluting diesels on the cheap.
This is why, in my opinion, it was unwise of Labour and Councillor Muten, who chairs the council’s Transport and Sustainability Committee, to announce that they have no plans for an expanded zone. That decision will risk air quality and our health.
For those of us who need clean air to stay healthy, this announcement was bad news. It not only ruled out the most effective means of improving our air quality in Brighton and Hove and our health but also encouraged people to continue buying diesel.
On behalf of the vulnerable, whose health will be harmed as a result of this decision, I plead with Labour to implement an expanded ULEZ as soon as possible. It is the only realistic way to improve air quality in our city.
Adrian Hill is an air quality campaigner who lives in Brighton.