Taking positive steps to help clear the air

The Oxford Times: A smoggy view of the city taken last month Buy this photo A smoggy view of the city taken last month

AIR quality is a long-running concern in Oxford.

And for many it is becoming an increasingly serious problem, especially in areas with high levels of traffic like the city centre.

These “pollution hot spots” are most commonly found in areas where congestion occurs.

This month, Public Health England claimed 276 deaths in Oxfordshire were linked to air pollution in 2010. At 5.6 per cent of deaths, that is largely in line with the South East average, although some in the health service were not convinced the figures were totally accurate.

While Oxford City Council has noted that air pollution does not pose a serious risk to most adults, it has accepted it is not hitting its targets for air quality.

In 2010 the entire city was declared an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), because predictions showed it would not achieve its aim of 40 micrograms of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) per cubic metre of air (ug/m3).

The current average level for High Street this month is already 54ug/m3.

Oxford has continued to be in breach of European Union (EU) air quality rules, which dictate targets, along with 15 other zones across the UK.

A number of roads within the city are forecast to fail the standard again in 2015, which could result in an EU fine that the Government could pass on to Oxford City Council.

To tackle the problem, the council has produced an Air Quality Action Plan.

The most recent one, decided in December 2013, calls for a higher uptake of low emissions vehicles, more reliance on park-and-ride sites from shoppers and placing planning conditions on developments such as the new Westgate Centre scheme.

Other initiatives, like the Low Emission Zone (LEZ), have targeted bus operators using some of the busiest streets, including Botley Road, St Aldate’s, St Giles’ and High Street.

Announced about four years ago and implemented in January, that has seen operators phase out the exhausts of older buses and bring in cleaner ones with hybrid engines.

But city council leader Bob Price said there was still a lot to do.

He said: “We would very much like to extend the Low Emission Zone to other parts of the city and include other vehicles.

“The trouble is, the last zone took four years to put in place, so it will take time for us to get there.

“Our next step would be to extend it to arterial roads like Woodstock Road, Cowley Road and Abingdon Road.

“Bad air quality must be having an effect on health and we are very aware of that.”

Mr Price supports possible pedestrianisation of parts of Oxford such as St Giles’ and George Street in fighting pollution levels, or by bringing in new public transport systems such as trams, as Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth has suggested.

But he cautioned: “It is not likely to happen any time soon.”

Bus Users Oxford spokesman Hugh Jaeger said bus companies were “the biggest and easiest target” for council policies, but they had stepped up to the challenge.

He said: “Most had implemented the changes before January when the LEZ came into force.”

And the renewal of buses to greener models would continue to happen over time as companies regularly replace their stock, Mr Jaeger said.

Green group leader on the city council, Craig Simmons, has called for greater scrutiny of new developments like Westgate and the Northern Gateway scheme.

He claimed that the Westgate proposals will raise emissions, because plans are “based on the assumption that more shoppers and cars will come to Oxford”.

He said: “Although there is talk of getting people on buses, instead of in their cars, the current public transport provisions make that a very unrealistic prospect.

“I am worried that the pollution levels will just get worse again, even after the introduction of the LEZ.

“We are in favour of expanding that, but the key is managing traffic effectively.”

One voice that remains constant throughout Oxford’s air quality debate is that of cyclists.

Cyclox chairman Simon Hunt said: “The state of air quality in Oxford is one of the best reasons to encourage more people to use bikes.

“The main reason more people do not take it up, I think, is because they do not think it is safe enough.

“But the more vehicles making emissions we can take off the road the better the situation will be.”

s Levels of NO2 are a key issue because it contributes to the formation of smog, which can impact human health.

Effects can include higher chances of breathing problems, such as infections or coughs and particularly so on children with asthma.

Other harmful substances found in the air can include carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and particulates – tiny pieces of unburnt fuels expelled from exhausts.

 

What bus companies have done

Oxford’s bus companies have spent millions of pounds upgrading their buses to new European standards.
City Sightseeing Oxford, which operates sightseeing buses around the city, has alone replaced 11 of its fleet with models that use the compliant Euro V system.
That model, pictured, is more than a third greener than its predecessor, the Euro IV, and more than two thirds greener than the Euro III.
Oxford Bus Company has also upgraded its fleet to electric hybrid buses, cutting fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 39 per cent.

 

Harmful pollutants

Levels of NO2 are a key issue because it contributes to the formation of smog, which can impact human health.

Effects can include higher chances of breathing problems, such as infections or coughs and particularly so on children with asthma.
Other harmful substances found in the air can include carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and particulates – tiny pieces of unburnt fuels expelled from exhausts.

 

A key health indicator

LIBERAL Democrat Jean Fooks has been pressing Oxfordshire County Council, on which she represents Wolvercote and Summertown, to include air quality as a “key health indicator”.
At the last meeting of the council, she suggested the idea be taken up by the Oxfordshire Health and Wellbeing Board, a partnership between the council and the NHS, and recognise the risk to residents from traffic.
Mrs Fooks, left, said: “The county council has a duty of care to its constituents. What we need is further action to bring taxis and private cars under the LEZ. Congestion is the main problem.”
Her motion to council was agreed by 34 votes to two, with 25 abstentions.

Comments (3)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

5:58pm Thu 24 Apr 14

Bicester retired says...

Sometimes I just don't know what to believe. A good friend of mine died of lung cancer few years ago at the age of 58. He lived in the countryside and played football and golf as hobbies. He was not a smoker and could not believe that he had got lung cancer when diagnosed. My own mother quitted smoking at 50. She has been living in an urban area just adjacent to a very busy road (much more polluted than Oxford City Centre). Everyday she walks to a nearby market along a footpath close to the busy road. She is now 91.
Sometimes I just don't know what to believe. A good friend of mine died of lung cancer few years ago at the age of 58. He lived in the countryside and played football and golf as hobbies. He was not a smoker and could not believe that he had got lung cancer when diagnosed. My own mother quitted smoking at 50. She has been living in an urban area just adjacent to a very busy road (much more polluted than Oxford City Centre). Everyday she walks to a nearby market along a footpath close to the busy road. She is now 91. Bicester retired
  • Score: 0

11:18pm Thu 24 Apr 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

Bicester retired wrote:
Sometimes I just don't know what to believe. A good friend of mine died of lung cancer few years ago at the age of 58. He lived in the countryside and played football and golf as hobbies. He was not a smoker and could not believe that he had got lung cancer when diagnosed. My own mother quitted smoking at 50. She has been living in an urban area just adjacent to a very busy road (much more polluted than Oxford City Centre). Everyday she walks to a nearby market along a footpath close to the busy road. She is now 91.
Wrong kind of tree Pollen?

Not long until the Linden trees will be stinking.
[quote][p][bold]Bicester retired[/bold] wrote: Sometimes I just don't know what to believe. A good friend of mine died of lung cancer few years ago at the age of 58. He lived in the countryside and played football and golf as hobbies. He was not a smoker and could not believe that he had got lung cancer when diagnosed. My own mother quitted smoking at 50. She has been living in an urban area just adjacent to a very busy road (much more polluted than Oxford City Centre). Everyday she walks to a nearby market along a footpath close to the busy road. She is now 91.[/p][/quote]Wrong kind of tree Pollen? Not long until the Linden trees will be stinking. Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: 0

12:30pm Fri 25 Apr 14

King Joke says...

I'm very sorry to hear of your friend, but one anecdote doesn't disprove the link between pollution and disease. I know it's no consolation.
I'm very sorry to hear of your friend, but one anecdote doesn't disprove the link between pollution and disease. I know it's no consolation. King Joke
  • Score: 0

Comments are closed on this article.

click2find

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree