Air pollution: legal or illegal? It depends on how you measure it

Defra's only air pollution monitoring station in the city, which is located in leafy Preston Park
Defra's only air pollution monitoring station in the city, which is located in leafy Preston Park

Defra's only air pollution monitoring station in the city is located in Preston Park.

Whitehall officials believe that air quality levels in Brighton and Hove are within legal limits.

Chris Todd (top left) organised a Friends of the Earth protest at the Clock Tower

Chris Todd (top left) organised a Friends of the Earth protest at the Clock Tower

But they would think that. Because they measure them in the centre of one of the city’s largest parks.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) only monitoring station in Brighton and Hove is located in Preston Park.

Its data spans an area covering Brighton and Hove, Littlehampton, and Worthing. The date of air quality “compliance” for this area Defra estimates in its Draft Air Quality Plans, is 2015 - but it has recently been updated to 2020.

Chris Todd, planning and transport campaigner for Brighton and Hove Friends of the Earth, said the latest Defra report was “ludicrous”.

He claimed Brighton and Hove City Council figures - the council has its own monitoring stations - show levels at North Street, Western Road, and the Clock Tower, are significantly above legal limits.

Defra’s estimate of nitrogen dioxide levels in Brighton was 41µg/m3 in 2013 (the legal limit is 40) and that it would meet the standards by 2015.

But 2015 figures from Brighton and Hove’s Air Quality Action plan in February, show pollution levels at North Street show a measurement at 80µg/m3 (twice the legal limit), and Valley Gardens came out at 69µg/m3.

Mr Todd said: “Defra has got no monitoring stations at the roadside in Brighton and Hove, so how can they put a report out saying the air pollution levels are fine? It is ludicrous. 50,000 people a year are now dying from air pollution in the UK every year, making it one of the biggest threats to human health. Much of that pollution comes from traffic.

“Based as it is on dodgy statistics, the plan should be binned and Defra forced to come up with something that will do the job properly and quickly.

“People’s lives are being ruined by government inaction. It has a moral and legal duty to sort this out as soon as possible.”

When the Brighton and Hove Independent asked Defra for a statement, it said: “Tackling air pollution is a priority for this government and we are working with local authorities and members of the public on how to make our nation cleaner.

“Our plans are based on the best available and most reliable data in line with legal requirements and international standards.

“Brighton is forecast to fall into compliance by 2020 once measures set out in the Air Quality plan, including improved traffic flows and the low emission zone for buses, have been implemented.”

The issue will be discussed at Brighton and Hove City Council’s environment, transport and sustainability committee on Tuesday, when councillors will be asked to approve an Air Quality Action Plan, on how nitrogen dioxide levels can be reduced across Brighton and Hove.