All you need is the (clean) air that you breathe

Why cleaning up the air matters to Liverpool

For the past couple of months I have been immersed in the world of air pollution and clean air planning, finding out about the work that has been done by the city council to measure the quality of air in the city and look at the possible solutions to this problem has been eye opening.

Mel Howe, Liverpool City Council

This work has been part of the DEFRA request to Liverpool to draw up plans to tackle the growing problem of air pollution and list the ways in which as a city we could make a real impact on this pollution.

Cleaning up our city’s air was made a priority by Liverpool’s Mayor Joe Anderson back in 2017 when he drew up a list of measures that he wanted to see implemented to tackle air quality. Since then a number of steps have been taken — from converting the council’s cleansing and refuse collection fleet away from diesel, to alternative fuels, to working on a connectivity strategy in the city centre to improve how people travel around in a more environmentally friendly way. Small steps we know, but ones that are going in the right direction.

You might be asking why now though? The impact of air pollution is not a new thing, but what is, is the urgency with which we need to address the issue. Public Health England has stated that bad air quality is currently the biggest risk to public health in the UK, and recent research from Kings College has revealed that living near a busy road may increase your chances of lung cancer by 10%. In Liverpool levels of roadside air pollution restricts the growth of children’s lungs by 5%.

Many may think that as we moved away from our industrial past, our air would have improved. That instead of breathing dirty air we now breathe in air free from such toxins. But, as Professor Callum Semple from the University of Liverpool and Alder Hey says “we’ve seen a rise in car ownership and people using cars for shorter journeys so yes we’re not seeing the big smogs that we saw in the 70s and 60s but instead we have swapped that for kids sucking in diesel and petrol fumes outside the school gates.”

Liverpool is not alone in it’s plans to improve air quality, a number of other cities are also putting plans in place to reduce air pollution and make their cities healthier places to live and work. The first of which was London, it introduced an ultra-clean air zone back in April this year in a bid to improve it’s air quality.

We are one of a number of cities in England who have now been asked by the government to put forward plans to deal with the level of pollutants in the air and work out the best ways in which we can make a difference. In Manchester, there are proposals to implement a clean air zone in 2 stages from 2021 and 2023 to bring Nitrogen Dioxide within legal limits, in Leeds a clean air zone is due to brought in from July 2020. So this means charging the more polluting vehicles to enter the clean air zones. Whilst Manchester and Leeds won’t be including private cars, motorbikes or mopeds in their CAZs, Birmingham has made the decision to include them and also plan to charge drivers of private vehicles £8 to enter the clean air zone which will come into force from January next year.

You may be thinking do clean air zones actually make a difference? Well the evidence so far from London is that they do. Figures released in October show a 36% reduction in Roadside NO2 pollution and 13,500 fewer polluting cars being driven into central London.*

Liverpool is a city that has declared a climate emergency and improving the substandard air that many of our residents currently breathe in is a key part of this. Liverpool City Council has taken the step of appointing a dedicated Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability to help tackle the issue.

Our clean air plans were submitted to DEFRA at the end of October and we are now awaiting DEFRA’s response so work can begin on a full business plan to show how we can meet legal levels of Nitrogen Dioxide.”

To find out more about air quality in Liverpool visit:

* Figures taken from Mayor of London press release (21 Oct 2019)

Liverpool Waterfront