Cleaner air for cleaner Cities

A recent report from the World Health Organisation suggested that 40 of the UK’s towns and cities are at, or have exceeded, the organisation’s pollution limits (with fine-particle air pollution levels above 10 micrograms per cubic metre).

 This well-known urban issue is predominantly caused by diesel cars, which contribute to high levels of road-side nitrogen dioxide.

So, what is to be done? Well, the recently-published Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) Clean Air Strategy (CAS) intends to improve the air we breathe, protect the environment and boost the economy. Sounds good.

But how will that affect us? Well, CAS outlines its plans to give local authorities increased powers to take action in the case of an Air Pollution Episode (or APE), it also suggests that high-risk people could be given personalised pollution alerts. And, more broadly, local authorities will be given new powers to cut air pollution in cities.

That’s great to hear, but what does this mean for the way we travel – both for pleasure and business? Here’s the low-down:

City Driving

Fines for idling

One of the main potential impacts of the strategy is that local authorities could now increase fines for drivers who fail to stop their engines when their car is idling, i.e. stationary. 

Clean Air Zones (CAZ)

These will be created, meaning that local councils will take measures to improve air quality. Fortunately, each authority will be provided with extensive guidance, so that you can still get around your city centres with ease, as well as a £275 million Implementation Fund, and a £220 million Clean Air Fund.

Road to Zero

This snappily titled policy means that all new cars and vans manufactured in the UK will be zero emission by 2040 – a great step in the right direction for cleaner cities.

Developing a plan to deal with no-exhaust emissions

High NO2concentrations around roads are sure to be reduced, it seems. But have you ever heard of non-exhaust emissions? Friction, tyres and worn-down brakes cause microplastics and other small particles to rub off, resulting in another unpleasant pollutant. The government plans a new study into microplastics to find a way to reduce these emissions.

Changes to Bus and Rail

Cleaner train travel

Defra is working with local government, rail networks and providers to remove all diesel-only trains by 2040. Hydrogen powered trains are a possible alternative option. They’re also assessing air quality within enclosed stations.

Low-emission buses

You might see the buses in your city changing – as the CAS encourages the use of ultra-low emission ones. Funding for this will be provided by the £2.4 billion Transforming Cities Fund, which aims to improve public transport connectivity and reduce congestion and emissions in some of England’s largest cities.

Active travel

The CAS encourages active forms of travel in the urban environment – on your bike, everyone! To reduce traffic congestion and emissions from road transport, cycling or walking short journeys are one way forward. £1.2 billion has been made available for investment in this area for the period 2016-2021, with the aim being to double the level of cycling by 2025 and to reverse the decline in walking. £101 million of this fund has gone towards the Cycle City Ambition programme, which aims to improve and extend cycle routes between city centres and local communities. This has been rolled out across eight cities - Greater Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Norwich, Cambridge and Oxford (London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has has promised an average of £169 million a year for cycling schemes over the next five years).

So, there you have it, a whistle stop tour of how the government’s plan to cut emissions affects urban roads and transport systems. We’ll keep you posted as new policies and initiatives take shape. In any case, we’re seeing that greenest modes of transport are actively being encouraged – so watch this space (or park one of our electric cars in it, pronto.)

Frances McMonagle
Originally from “Up North“, since moving to London a few years back Fran has made it her mission to make the most out of living in the city. She can usually be found with a green tea, coffee or cocktail in hand busy taking far too many photos.

Date published: 5 September 2019

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