It has been estimated that poor air quality in the UK causes more than 50,000 deaths per year, and probably causes more mortality and morbidity than passive smoking, road traffic accidents or obesity. Particulate air pollution alone in the UK has been estimated to reduce the life expectancy of every person by an average of 7-8 months, with estimated equivalent health costs of up to £20 billion each year. Latest estimates from Public Health England suggest that in Medway there are 125 deaths each year that are attributable to particulate pollution.
The Environmental Protection and Public Health teams have been requested to provide a general update on air quality in Medway to the Medway Health and Wellbeing Board.
The Board were advised that evidence from a recent study estimated that poor air quality was responsible for more than 50,000 deaths in the UK each year. Particulate air pollution had been estimated to reduce life expectancy of each person by an average of seven to eight months Deaths from poor air quality, were more than the number attributable to passive smoking, road traffic accidents or obesity. The costs to the UK economy of air pollution were estimated at £20 billion per year. 125 Medway residents aged over 25 are believed to die each year as a result of air pollution.
The Environmental Protection Team monitored air quality across Medway. There is a specific Medway air quality Action Plan in place. The Action Plan promotes the use of public transport, less driving of private cars, car sharing as well as sustainable development. The Safer Journey team was working to encourage walking and cycling to and from Medway schools. The Council was required to provide DEFRA with an annual update on air quality in Medway. An Air Quality Steering Group had been set up by the Environmental Protection team to oversee implementation of action plan
A new Air Quality Management area had been declared in October 2017 at Four Elms Hill due to levels of Nitrogen Dioxide. This required the development of a new Air Quality Action Plan within 12 months
The Environmental Protection Team worked closely with the Council’s planning function to ensure that the new Local Plan would include an air quality policy.
Use of public transport was increasing. There has been a rise in the number of bus passengers. Public Health had engaged the National Social Marketing Centre to develop an air quality communications strategy to promote a change in behaviours. The adoption of a traffic management tool locally was helping to improve traffic flows across the Medway road network.
Due to improvements to air quality in other parts of Medway, Defra had recommended reviewing the status of all air quality management areas in Medway. Feedback from Defra had acknowledged progress in some key areas. However, a significant number of measures remained inactive. Some of the measures not progressed in 2016 had seen further development in 2017 e.g. the production of a communications strategy. Progress had also been made in relation to emissions of the local bus fleet. A key measure to be progressed in next financial year included taxi emissions with the Energy Savings Trust having been engaged to support the work.
In relation to the Pier Road Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), progress had been made since 2012. Continued progress would enable the AQMA to be revoked but it was considered prudent for regeneration of the area to be completed and the new Local Plan adopted before a decision was made to change the status of the Pier Road AQMA.
The Board raised a number of points and questions, which were responded to
Traffic congestion, cycling programme and emission target fines – A Board Member was concerned by the increasing amount of slow moving traffic on the A2 and that it appeared to have got significantly worse in a short period of time. The Member also highlighted the Council’s £2.5m cycling programme and that the Council was working to ensure that all new developments had access to the cycling network. He highlighted that there was a risk of the UK facing a fine from the European Union for breaching emission targets for levels of Nitrogen Dioxide and that if this happened it was likely that every local authority would have to contribute.
Another Board Member raised the issue of pollution caused by lorries passing through Rainham and suggested that many of these could be routed via the M2 instead. The Member also raised concern that the bus priority system on Chatham Hill was causing problems with traffic flow. Officers advised that the pollution caused by lorries was reducing significantly and that the most significant problems were caused by older diesel cars. The issue raised in relation to the Chatham Hill bus priority system would be discussed with integrated transport.
Officers stated that the Council was consulted on development close to the Medway boundary so there was the opportunity to object to developments that could have a negative impact on Medway. New planning guidance included the requirement for developers to take air quality mitigation measures to offset likely impacts. Prior to the new guidance, it had been difficult to secure appropriate levels of mitigation. There were now new developments that included vehicle charging points and cycle links as well as work to incentivise people to buy bikes. Appropriate planning measures were being put in place but it was acknowledged that the cumulative impact of development in Medway could be significant.
Wouldham development– A Board Member raised concerns about the pressure that new development in the Wouldham area put on the local road network and questioned whether this had been investigated.
Officers advised that if definitive information on increased traffic volumes compared to baselined data was available then the issue could be considered. The issue had not been raised previously but could be looked at if further detail was to be provided.
Electric Vehicles, charging points and emission targets - Planning guidance encouraged the provision of charging points at new developments. There was no strategy currently in place for existing development but a working group would look at this issue. The aim was to achieve emission levels that were as low as possible.
A Member voiced concern that the UK current power supply infrastructure would not be able to cope with a significant increase in the number of electric vehicles and also that increased power generation required could cancel out the environmental benefit of reduced emissions from vehicles. The Member also noted that Medway now had the opportunity to store energy generated from wind turbines.
Bus and fleet emissions and emissions reduction / monitoring – An update on work to reduce bus emissions would be included in the annual status report that would be published in June. Two freight operators had made significant investment in cleaner vehicles during the year without there being a need for formal intervention. Discussions were taking place with operators about future targets. Two projects were being delivered to reduce taxi emissions, although a Member raised the issue of there being an increasing number of taxis operating in the area that were registered outside Medway, which would be difficult for Medway to tackle. The Member was also concerned that bus fares were too high for people to use them rather than drive. Consideration would also be given to how the Council’s vehicle fleet could be made greener with electric vehicles also having the potential to deliver significant cost savings. There were two fixed air quality monitoring stations in Medway with data being collected in real time. Monitoring devices could be attached to lampposts for a month at a time. Equipment could not be moved easily. Some mobile monitoring equipment was in use but this was not as accurate as the fixed equipment. Evidence in relation to catalytic paint coating reducing particulate pollution was mixed. It was considered more important to target the source of pollution, particularly to ensure that diesel emissions were reduced. Street design, including increasing levels of green planting was also important.
Budget for street tree planting– A Member raised concerns that a lot of street trees had been lost and that these could not be replaced from within normal Council budgets. Officers advised that some mitigation could be achieved through tree planting and it was suggested that work could be undertaken with the Greenspaces team for wider improvements to be realised.
Productivity – A Member considered that poor productivity was a contributory factor to pollution and that therefore this needed to be addressed. It was requested that this issue be fully investigated, including the identification of what motivates stakeholders to change.
Location of Kent and Medway – A Board Member said that Medway and Kent differed from the rest of the country as they were the gateway to the UK for the vast majority of traffic arriving from continental Europe and therefore would be more affected by traffic that other parts of the country. The Member also noted that while Medway needed to take action where it could, the issue of air pollution was a worldwide problem and suggested that consideration could be given to encouraging people to replace older, more polluting cars.
The Board noted and accepted the report as an update from the Environmental Protection and Public Health teams in relation to the current status of the air quality in Medway.