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?