Any New Ideas in the New Clean Air strategy for Sheffield ?

Sheffield City Council’s cabinet meets next Wednesday 13th December to sign off a ‘new’ clean air strategy alongside a new ‘Transport Vision for Sheffield‘ which states, tucked away on page 10 that it’s developing a Green City Strategy with climate change at its heart  … 10 years on from the ‘Environmental Excellence’ strategy I wrote with the Labour Cabinet Member of the time I don’t see anything new in the strategies for transport or air quality despite the obvious improvement in data and opportunities afforded by new technologies. Whilst it’s hard to disagree with anything said in either strategy it hardly inspires a step-change in commitment.

There are also plans to establish a series of “Congestion Conversations” to fully understand any areas where congestion hotspots could be tackled with some small changes … [and] we now know that diesel cars are a major contributor to NOx emissions in the city.

To be precise, officers of the Council have known about these issues for a long time. This is not a new discovery. In fact, the Council is simply more accepting of the fact since the Government acknowledged it and has, since, actively disincentivised diesel engines.

As a result “We are seeing a downward market shift nationally in the demand for new diesel cars as a result of greater awareness of air pollution issues. However, there are still a significant number of older diesel cars in the city. Our data suggests that 41% of vehicles registered in Sheffield in 2016 were diesels, almost 30% of private cars are older diesels and there are a lot of older and more polluting petrol private cars on our roads too”.

So far then, a series of ‘comversations’ about congestion alongside some campaigning and now a commitment to “work in partnership with the bus companies to improve the bus fleet and reduce emissions … seeking investment to enable the retrofitting or replacement of the bus fleet” – something the Council has been saying for some time. Again, nothing new here and the evidence in the strategy that the city has some of the worst buses in the country. Even the small percentage of EURO6 engines isn’t encouraging – they often perform worse that EURO5 engines. 

I fear there’ll be little change in the bus operator’s attitude – especially if they’re also being asked to hold fares down (which is a good thing for air quality and carbon emissions overall unless you live right next door to an idling bus lane such as Broomhill, Ecclesall Rd or through West St.

More consultation is planned with the taxi operators: “We will consult and work with the taxi operators and other interested parties, to ensure we have theright standards in place, taking into account the wider implications of any changes that may be needed. We will seek investment from Government for a fund to help taxi operators/owners to improve their vehicles. This will be particularly focused on the most polluting taxis.”

All feels a bit passive to me. No mention of actively investing in electric charging infrastructure for residents, visitors and businesses in the way Nottingham City Council has done over the past 12 months (with a massive £2m roll out plan with Chargemaster). Scant mention of adopting its own fleet (and, I hope Veolia, Kier, etc) and just a postscript on supporting the University of Sheffield’s work on hydrogen.

So, more consultation (with taxis) and no real technological change or use of any smart ambitions for route planning, real time data, smart systems (other than dockless bikes) but, there will be [another] new parking strategy, which will reflect our aims to manage parking demand and incentivise lower emission forms of travel [good]. As part of this we will:

  • Review the parking permits available, including Green Parking Permit scheme, to ensure that they reflect the latest technological improvements and are incentivising low emission vehicles.
  • Review our Sheffield City Council employee parking schemes to encourage public transport, active travel and other low emission forms of transport.
  • Review parking across the city, including areas that are currently unregulated
  • Identify, review and implement a range of parking encouragements and disincentives to improve air quality.

I will be really interested to see how far the Council is prepared to go on this. In truth, they own very little of the off-street parking in the city anymore. Most of it is provided by private companies over whom they have very little influence. The parking stock in question is on-street, highly politicised [by a parking lobby and the Members themselves] and small in number.

On the positive side, it’s good to see a strategy going to Cabinet. It’s been in the queue for a very long time. It’s important that it integrates with the City’s transport strategy and they work together. I’m also really encouraged to learn there’s a Green City Strategy in the making too. But what I have read in these strategies is passive, lacks real teeth and misses the opportunities to use new technologies and stimulate a market for low emission vehicles in the City.

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MPs call for councils to have power to create clean air zones

MPs in the UK are finally coming to terms with the need to address air quality in our towns and cities. They ask that clean air zones should be introduced in UK cities to tackle the problems caused by air pollution, according to a new report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.

The new report warned that air pollution is a “public health emergency”, linked to the early deaths of 40,000–50,000 people every year from cardiac, respiratory and other diseases, as well as harming the environment and agriculture.

It also found European Union limits on nitrogen dioxide pollution were breached in 38 out of 43 UK areas.

It’s all well and good for this call to come but it’s not going to be the UK Government, nor its MPs who set the policy or invest in the infrastructure needed. It will be the local councils, the Metropolitan authorities and city councils who will be tasked with that.

I blogged on this almost three years ago (see here) “here is no one solution – it will be a combination of many, many interventions. Every city taking this issue seriously will be looking at a range of options to tackle this problem – and some are easier to introduce than others. To inform those choices, it is important to understand in fine detail the sources of your air quality problem”.

These local authorities, at a time when money is short to invest and when they are wholly reliant on income from, for example, car parking charges, will be required to introduce policies which many of their electorate will find unpopular – such as restricting diesel vehicles in areas where pollution is already high. This might include taxis (wait for the Uber-lobby), buses (wait for the public transport lobby), trucks (wait for the Chambers and Business ‘leaders’ lobby) and, of course, the electorate to vote accordingly.

Interesting timing then, that this should be put on the table now, one week from local elections. How many people will choose who they vote for based on their commitment to improved air quality? Well, in London, Khan, Goldsmith et al are being pushed on it so it’s only a matter of time before other cities such as Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol, Sheffield all face it becoming a manifesto challenge.

For years local politicians have called for the Government to take the policy lead on this. If they do there will be nowhere to hide for local councillors and they will have no more excuses to put off measures that will see local air quality improve.

You can read my thoughts of some three years back (https://aardvarknoseface.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/sustainable-cities-need-low-emission-vehicles/). In summary though, local authorities have got to redress the balance between walking, cycling and the car. Investment in public transport (and not dirty 25 year old diesel buses) and infrastructure for refuelling low emission engines (preferably electric, gas and hydrogen) with the right policy incentives is absolutely central to this debate.

Who wouldn’t vote for a cleaner, pedestrian/cyclist friendly city centre afterall?

Source:

Air Quality Remains Poor – But the Blame has Shifted to the Car Manufacturers

Maybe, maybe the owners of VW, Audi, Seat and other cars will put enough political pressure on their governments that this will be sustained because of self-interest in the resale value of their cars rather than the condition of their lungs. Either way, this may just have been the best thing for air quality.

Air quality in cities has been increasingly poor for years. Sustainable cities need great air quality. As regulation tightened on industrial emissions from factories, construction and combustion the predominant source of particulate matter, sulphur, NOx and ozone shifted to combustion engines in vehicles.

Earlier this year I blogged ‘At last it’s official and there should be no hiding place for the UK in improving its air quality as Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution’. The blame, at that time, was squarely on the British Government for failing to deliver on the legislation originating from Brussels.

Two years ago I suggested (in light of the Government’s electric car strategy) ‘There is good news in it – especially the announcement of £500m to be made available over the next parliament to support electric cars. However, there are clear problems with this strategy so Labour has an opportunity to set out its own, more radical, agenda. With the Labour Group in conference in Brighton – heartland of the Green Party, I wonder whether Corbyn will be willing to make some bold commitments – not least because last week we saw the blame shift from the Government to the manufacturers. It’s akin to blaming the bankers for providing the cash to everyone who wanted to borrow. If you want to buy a car, buy one – you’d think you were safe in the knowledge there are people monitoring the performance of cars in the same way there are watchdogs guarding the banks.

Today, in conference, Labour committed to getting the taxes owed by Starbucks, Google and others. Maybe tomorrow they’ll commit to ensuring multi-national car manufacturers will be brought to book for not just failing, downright deceptively avoiding, standards.

Government will be quick to confuse the issues of legislation, choice and deception. Government will suggest the cause of the issue is entirely down to the poor performance of new vehicles coming on to the market, a la VW. There isn’t many places the car manufacturers can go other than to fall on their catalytic convertors but the hiding place for national and local government wont be long lived.

If government’s don’t tighten up their regulation of the automakers and air quality there is only one loser – us. If government’s do respond we can see better vehicle technology deployed, an accelerated shift towards electric, gas and hydrogen engines and, as a result, cleaner air.

Maybe, maybe the owners of VW, Audi, Seat and other cars will put enough political pressure on their governments that this will be sustained because of self-interest in the resale value of their cars rather than the condition of their lungs. Either way, this may just have been the best thing for air quality.

Read also: http://www.citiesofthefuture.eu/volkswagen-cheating-an-opportunity-for-cities/

If only everything in life was as reliable as a … oh.

In the first blog I contributed to ‘Sustainable Smart Cities’ I wrote about the known impacts of poor air quality – particularly in urban areas. In that blog it said:

A report ‘Public Health Impacts of Combustion Emissions in the United Kingdom’  (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es2040416) states ‘Combustion emissions are a major contributor to degradation of air quality and pose a risk to human health. We evaluate and apply a multiscale air quality modeling system to assess the impact of combustion emissions on UK air quality. Epidemiological evidence is used to quantitatively relate PM2.5 exposure to risk of early death. We find that UK combustion emissions cause 13,000 premature deaths in the UK per year, while an additional 6000 deaths in the UK are caused by non-UK European Union (EU) combustion emissions.

In the EU, with a raft of legislation and Directives, there was frustration that nation states were failing to put in place the policies that would drive local air quality improvement. Local government would be nervous of introducing any policies that were considered ‘anti-business’ or ‘anti-car’ for fear of losing votes. National governments just ran scared of dictating uniform standards and policies. But there was hope. There was an increasing growth in electric vehicles, hydrogen technology, and compressed natural gas. Major hauliers have moved away from diesel and reaped the rewards. However, whilst there were tax incentives for motorists for lower emission vehicles there was always going to be an uptake of diesel and its growth in the UK has been in direct response to that.

We need to move away from diesel towards ever increasing cleaner fuels. Increasingly, we see two short-medium term winners – for lighter vehicles electric hybrid and electric plug-in solutions are likely to fair well and, given the improvement in battery technology and capacity the concept of ‘range anxiety’ (that awful fear that you might be left stranded somewhere without a hope of plugging-in) will become a thing of the past. More and more of these lighter vehicles appear to have switched from petrol to diesel in recent years as subsequent UK policy incentivised the uptake of diesel through reduced road tax as a way of reducing carbon emissions. For once, what’s been good for carbon dioxide (and only very marginally) hasn’t been good for local air quality.

But, overall, the policy makers have been weak to press harder despite the fines from Brussels hanging over Member States for whom air quality improvements have yet to be realised.

The growth in diesel vehicles by number has probably masked the very fact that has been exposed this week – that it is in the interests of car manufacturers to ‘fiddle’ the system to ensure in tests their vehicles pass the emissions tests. But in reality, on the roads, they are performing knowhere near where they say they are and a dirty, choking country mile from where they need to be. Don’t think either that it’s just diesel. Petrol, whilst more refined, is not much better and the real challenge is to switch from petroleum based products altogether.

The revelation that the respected car manufacturer, Volkswagen, has been ‘fiddling’ has brought a backlash that meant the CEO walked. The company’s credentials for reliability smashed by the story breaking. They wont be alone, surely. In a report ‘Don’t Breathe Here: Tackling Air Pollution from Vehicles’ – T&E analyses the reasons for and solutions to air pollution caused by diesel machines and cars – the worst of which, an Audi, emitted 22 times the allowed EU limit. In fact, every major car manufacturer is selling diesel cars that fail to meet EU air pollution limits on the road in Europe, according to data obtained by T&E.

As a consequence of this and emissions from diesel machines, much urban air in Europe is not fit to breathe. The high levels of particles, nitrogen oxides and unburned fuel create a cocktail of harmful pollution. The effects are half a million premature deaths each year; a quarter of a million hospital admissions; and 100 million lost working days cumulatively costing over €900 billion.

The regulators in whom we trust have been undone in the US and, who knows, in the EU too. So why is it that it we are surprised? The Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment aren’t. They have long been among those highlighting the fact that the real world experience of many car owners, even in terms of fuel consumption, did not come anywhere near to the official figures that resulted from emissions testing.  The question arises of why it takes underfunded NGOs to discover these problems, rather than the regulators themselves.

Now that the truth is out will politicians respond and toughen up? Will the outcry and outrage of the car-driving public demand politicians sort things out? Or will they, like they did with the banking industry, simply wait for the dust, particulates, NOx and ozone to settle and let the auto industry carry on the way it has?

Source: How Volkswagen got caught cheating emissions tests by a clean air NGO

City transport needs saving from itself

A really good piece on integration of systems and a smart city approach published by The Conversation (7th August 2015) “City transport needs saving from itself – here’s how to do it” by Yvonne Huebner. The piece covers energy, grid lock and smart traffic systems.

The desire for ever greater urbanisation is putting unrealistic demands on existing infrastructure, road and rail networks constrained by geology, topography, climate, land ownership, planning (or lack of it) and the unregulated freedoms afforded to personal mobility. Politically, gridlock (or congestion) is always topical and of great local importance to the economy, health, wellbeing and environment within our cities. Smarter cities with integrated systems of movement en masse have to be part of the solution.

Sheffield schools shut under a cloud of diesel

Air quality made a prominent story in The Sunday Times this weekend with the story – Schools shut under a cloud of diesel. Air quality hasn’t, typically, made it in to the Sunday broadsheets too often and certainly when it has it has been more about the impact it is having in London, not Sheffield.

Sheffield, the city in which I live, has a well earned reputation for managing air quality. It was the first city to respond significantly to the Clean Air Act and worked quickly to clean up industry and switched domestic heating from coal to natural gas.

In recent times its air quality problems are not so much a consequence of the highly regulated industrial pollution – much more now about the completely unregulated emissions of nitrous oxides and particular matter that come from the burning of petrol and, more significantly, diesel vehicle engines.

Today, Sheffield, just about maintains a good reputation for managing air quality but to maintain that it needs to respond to the data and information it has about exceedences of exposure to the pollutants and, more importantly, act on them. The link between pollution and health is clear – unequivocal. the World Health Organisation has endorsed the science.

Sheffield does have some mitigation – one of the UK’s busiest roads, the M1, cuts right through its eastern boundary with Rotherham and it’s this road which is the biggest contributor to poor health in communities like Tinsley. It’s for this reason that the schools in Tinsley are moving further away so as to expose fewer school children to the harmful pollution.

But, whilst the City Council’s recommendation should be acknowledged and accepted, this is the same city council that has supported the creation of new IKEA store in the east of the city (which will draw people in in cars on the M1) and the expansion of Meadowhall. The proposals for a low emission zone which have been mooted for 7-8 years have progressed in so much as the Council has a fantastic wealth of evidence to base its arguments on but doesn’t appear to have the political appetite to implement it.  The studies clearly show diesel engines are the problem, particularly in built up areas in the city and on the M1. That means HGVs, buses, taxis and, yes, the private car.

Local MP, Clive Betts, calls for planning policies to protect people from the harmful effects of vehicle emissions. But wouldn’t it be a better solution to actively clean up the fleets of vehicles in the city so that those who already live in polluted areas would feel the benefits quicker?

Official – Time to Act on Air Quality in the UK

At last it’s official and there should be no hiding place for the UK in improving its air quality as Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that we now know, better than ever, what the causes of poor air quality are and what is needed to do it. Central to that is political will both at the national and local level. Unfortunately, therein lies the issue. Nationally there is reluctance to tell local authorities what to do and the trend has been to incentivise them to do the right thing through the provision of small pots of money to remedy dirty buses or encourage the uptake of electric vehicle charge points. Locally there has been real fear of appearing anti-car. It has meant local authorities have got themselves into a proper tangle with conflicting policies for regeneration and growth overriding policies to promote air quality.

Whilst the announcement is welcome, how convenient for it to come during Purdah such that no politician has been able to step up and take responsibility for the inaction of the current government or previous governments. Yes, this really has been a failing of both Labour and the Conservative / LibDem coalition. Instead a fairly weak comment from DEFRA A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent years and as this judgement recognises, work is already underway on revised plans (since February 2014) to meet EU targets on NO2 as soon as possible. “It has always been the government’s position to submit these plans before the end of this year. Meeting NO2 limits is a common challenge across Europe with 17 member states exceeding limits.” ClientEarth lawyers recently told a hearing that enforcement by the court was the only “effective remedy” for the UK’s “ongoing breach” of European Union law.

Previous blogs I have suggested what the solution might be. These words were drafted when I worked for the City Council in Sheffield, a city that has a better understanding of its air quality issues than most, but has yet to make any real inroads, despite some great things happening with EVs.

So, what’s the solution and who is charged with delivering it? Well, in truth there is no one solution – it will be a combination of many, many interventions. Every city taking this issue serviously will be looking at a range of options to tackle this problem – and some are easier to introduce than others. To inform those choices, it is important to understand in fine detail the sources of your air quality problem. Locally, we have undertaken an assessment of the vehicles running on Sheffield’s roads and have monitored emissions on key arterial routes to understand the actual (rather than modeled) emissions from passing vehicles. It is helping us to better understand whether all vehicles are equally responsible, or whether we need to target particular fleets (HGVs, buses, taxis, private vehicles, light goods, etc).

Despite all that, the solution is well understood. We need to move away from diesel towards ever increasing cleaner fuels. Increasingly, we see two short-medium term winners – for lighter vehicles electric hybrid and electric plug-in solutions are likely to fair well and, given the improvement in battery technology and capacity the concept of ‘range anxiety’ (that awful fear that you might be left stranded somewhere without a hope of plugging-in) will become a thing of the past. More and more of these lighter vehicles appear to have switched from petrol to diesel in recent years as subsequent UK policy incentivised the uptake of diesel through reduced road tax as a way of reducing carbon emissions. For once, what’s been good for carbon dioxde (and only very marginally) hasn’t been good for local air quality.

For heavier vehicles, electric is less likely to play a significant role for some time to come, the smart money is on the use of gas as an alternative to diesel. Whilst governments across the world are now faced with the prospect of fracking shale gas, provided there is a (more) sustainable solution, such as biogas, this could be a significant player. Of course, the concept of range anxiety still remains, so investment in gas refuelling technology is essential if gas is to see widespread adoption. Networks of gas refuelling stations on key routes on motorways and arterial roads and in depots up and down the country will be needed and public intervention is needed to achieve this.

Across South Yorkshire we have identified a number of key sites for the development of gas refuelling infrastructure and are working with the fleet operators and the industry more generally to begin its development. Over coming weeks and months, I’ll post updates on this important programme of work.