18 October 2018
Air pollution in Newcastle continues to exceed legal limits despite Air Quality Management Areas being set up by the City Council over ten years ago. The Council’s latest report shows worsening levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) in Percy Street, Pilgrim Street, City Road and other areas of the city. Levels on Gosforth High Street are now the worst in the city, at over 50% higher than the legal limits, and have increased in the last year.
Air pollution is linked to health problems including heart disease, lung cancer, dementia, and asthma. Children, pregnant women and older people are particularly at risk, with those living in poverty among the worst affected. The Royal College of Physicians estimate that air pollution leads to the early deaths of around 40,000 people a year in the UK, and costs health & business over £20 billion every year.
Most NO2 pollution is mainly caused by road traffic, particularly diesel vehicles. The government has challenged the council to publish a business plan at the beginning of 2019 highlighting the measures that will improve air quality in the shortest possible time. Urgent action is required to prevent further health problems for people in Newcastle, and to avoid fines for inaction.
Despite the Council having had an air quality plan in place for a decade, levels of air pollution in many areas of the city continue to rise. The Newcastle Green Party is calling on the Council to go further to tackle this important health problem.
Green Party spokesperson Frances Hinton said “the illegal levels of air pollution are becoming a health crisis. The fact that air pollution in our city is still on the increase after ten years of supposed action demonstrate that, despite the harm caused to people in Newcastle, this has not been a priority issue for the council. We urge the council to get serious about reducing traffic levels across the city. There are solutions that we could begin to implement tomorrow to help bring down toxic air pollution”.
The Green Party is calling on the council to change city centre parking policy and to make public transport into our city centre the more attractive option. For instance, the Greens argue that the ‘Alive After Five’ initiative run by NE1 giving people free evening parking is a subsidy for polluting forms of transport. Instead, they are calling on a switch to incentivising public transport and measures to make streets safer for walking and cycling.
“Measures to smooth the flow of traffic, like those in Gosforth High Street, only encourage more drivers to use the route, deterring people from making journeys by bike or on foot by making them feel less safe”, says Hinton. “Smoothing traffic also means making driving an even more attractive way to travel. Instead we are advocating improving provision for those travelling by bus, on foot or by bike. The Council is moving too slowly, often even in the wrong direction - for example ending parking concessions for electric vehicles.”
The Greens argue that an increase in pedestrianisation in the city centre is needed, something popular with shoppers and businesses and common in other UK and European cities.
Newcastle can also learn from other local authorities such as Edinburgh Council or Waltham Forest, extending and enforcing ‘20’s Plenty’ speed restrictions and reducing rat-running in residential areas to make driving less attractive.
“Coventry Council has recently launched an electric taxi scheme. Newcastle Council promised to review taxi licencing with respect to emissions in 2011 but has so far failed to complete this. This latest report shows progress has been far too slow - there’s little progress with Park & Ride, low take-up of ‘eco driver’ training even among the council’s own staff, no sign of a promised awareness campaign against engine idling, and it took months to replace broken air quality monitors”, says Hinton.
The Greens believe better joined-up thinking is needed to combat air pollution. They worry that developing housing out of town with too little consideration for public transport and cycling connections just adds to the pollution problem. Trees and greenspace help to improve air quality, but Newcastle has lost more of these than any other local authority area in the UK.
Newcastle's latest air quality report is available here.
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