Monday, November 29, 2010

Air Quality

The Government has published a Command Paper containing their response to the Environmental Audit Committee's (EAC) 'Air Quality' report. You can read it here.

Let's have a quick taste of the choicest morsels:

Transport policy must change dramatically if the UK is to meet future targets and reduce exposure to air pollution.

Yes, that seems pretty obvious really, but what this report doesn't say is that the change to transport policy must reduce car and motor vehicle use dramatically. Otherwise people will die. Unfortunately the Government are more concerned with preserving people's freedom to drive how and where they like than the health problems of a few wheezing whingers, or the climate problems of our great-grandchildren.

The Government must explain the role played by brake, tyre and road wear in generating particulate matter and research the impact of road surface particulate matter on air quality.

It's well-known that brake, tyre and road wear contributes a very significant amount of particulate matter. However the Government's policy of encouraging speeding by removing speed cameras ensures this problem will get worse: the faster you drive, the faster your brakes and tyres wear.

We are looking at all options for how to further reduce air pollution from transport. For example, on the 28 July, the Secretary of State for Transport confirmed that motorists will receive up to £5,000 towards the purchase of an ultra-low emission car from January 2011. The grant will reduce the up-front cost of eligible vehicles by 25 per cent, capped at £5,000, and will be open to both private and business buyers.

This will help reduce NOx and diesel particulate emissions over the long term (although it won't reduce tyre/road wear), but it's extremely expensive and unlikely to have much effect in the short term.

Much can be done at a local level to change patterns of behaviour and encourage more sustainable travel, and the Department for Transport recently announced important changes to local transport funding which will allow local authorities to set their own priorities, and challenge them to find ways to facilitate sustainable transport modes.

Yes, except there's plenty of evidence that some local authorities don't understand sustainable transport, don't care about it and regard it as a political liability. There seems to be very little to stop local authorities spending 'sustainable' money on bypasses or simply maintaining existing programs, given the savage budget cuts they have to make.
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We expect local authorities to bring forward packages of measures that could address a number of key challenges, including tackling local air quality problems.

Exactly my point. You 'expect', but you're not making them do anything.

At local level a number of locations have been exploring the effectiveness of ‘Smarter Choices’ measures on behaviour change. Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester recently trialled targeted promotion of sustainable ways to travel to reduce reliance on the car. Overall in the towns involved, car trips decreased by up to 9% with significant increases in walking, cycling and bus use.

And this is exactly the kind of thing that will happen less, as you're lumping all funding together in one 'sustainable' fund which councils can pretty much spend how they like.  To reduce pollution and carbon emissions you need to reduce motor journeys. It really is that simple. Yet the Government have axed Cycling England, which instigated the Darlington Cycling Demonstration Town project. Air pollution is part of a wider public health problem, to which cycling is potentially a solution, or it would be if the Government promoted it.

The NHS Carbon Reduction Strategy (for England) recognises that improved air quality is a benefit both for patients and the wider population and that active travel, such as more walking and cycling, leads to reduced health risks and improving air quality.

Exactly my point. It's not rocket science, so why aren't you doing it?

2 comments:

  1. It's not directly related to your post, but you may be interested anyway. Dutch motorways frequently have lower speed limits on sections which pass nearby homes specifically to reduce the local air and noise pollution for those who live near the motorway. It's something that Britain could very easily do, even without changing transport priorities.

    Noise is also further reduced by quiet road surfaces and acoustic barriers. Also, of course, having a high proportion of journeys by bicycle also helps enormously with both.

    You don't give any figures for how many "wheezing whingers" have health problems due to air pollution from motor vehicles. The numbers are surprisingly large. It's a long time since the government's own figures suggested that up to 24000 deaths per year are due to air pollution and that the main problem is traffic fumes. This is much larger than the roughly 3000 per year who die due to crashes.

    Since those figures were published back in 1998, the number of cars on British roads has grown enormously.

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