Several weeks ago the government rejected a £1.7m joint bid from the council and local bus operators to help retrofit 95 more of our buses with clean air technology.
I asked our three city MPs to protest to DEFRA on residents’ behalf about the decision, based as it appeared to be on a flawed new way of assessing our air quality needs. As I said at the time, we have two Air Quality Management Areas, and for the government to withhold critical funding based on a single air quality monitoring station in the middle of a park is really unhelpful. Decisions like this seem to call into question the Conservative government’s commitment on this issue.
So despite this setback I was pleased this week to take to environment, transport and sustainability committee an update on the work of the council’s Air Quality Programme Board. Air quality matters a great deal in a city like ours, and improving it can have a huge impact on health and even more so now we understand the health impacts of particulates (PMs) as well as nitrogen dioxide.
The Air Quality Programme Board involves a whole range of council departments, including public health, transport and planning, to ensure that we coordinate action around air quality priorities in the city, and provide focus and leadership. A recent really significant piece of work has been a mapping exercise, to establish how well the council’s current activities meet the recommendations in the NICE Guideline NG70: Outdoor Air Quality and Health. The mapping has shown that we are being successful in many areas, and with many initiatives aimed at promoting zero and low emission travel, including the City Car Club, bikeshare scheme and the city’s 40 electric vehicle charging points. We are also working on reducing congestion and vehicle idling by reviewing key junctions. Where we have gaps we will now tackle these through the programme board, working with our partners for cleaner air, and promoting the most sustainable and least polluting travel solutions, whether that is walking, cycling, travelling by almost zero emission buses or electric cars.
Gill Mitchell is Labour’s lead member for the environment on Brighton & Hove City Council.