15 Oct 2015

Council explores options to improve air quality and health

Environment Health Transport Wellbeing Clean air/air quality

Senior councillors will discuss how to improve air quality and the significant health benefits this brings when they meet next week.

A report being considered by executive board on Wednesday 21 October makes it clear that improving air quality by tackling transport emissions – as the biggest contributor to poor air quality – will improve the health of some of the city’s most vulnerable people.

In 2012 in the UK, 29,000 deaths were attributed to poor air quality. Reducing the worst pollutants would extend people’s lifespan by five times more than eliminating road casualties and three times more than eliminating passive smoking.

The report to executive board asks members to endorse an existing action plan to cut the council’s transport emissions. This includes:

  • Using more electric, hybrid and green fuelled vehicles
  • Proposals to develop a compressed natural gas station and converting bin lorries to green fuel
  • Continuing to encouraging businesses and individuals to consider car-sharing, walking, cycling and public transport
  • Improving infrastructure, for example the successful Elland Road and proposed Aire Valley park and ride sites, new train stations and NGT
  • Potentially providing free or discounted parking for low emission vehicles
  • Bidding for funding to help bus and taxi operators and businesses change to greener vehicles

Members are also being asked to endorse wider regional plans, adopt new targets to reduce pollutants, allocate more parking for electric vehicles in council car parks and ensure new developments have suitable charging points by using planning conditions.

Leeds City Council has been exploring how best to reduce emissions with discussion and co-operation of transport providers rather than enforcing such measures with low emission zones; designed to restrict or deter access for the most polluting vehicles in certain areas.

Even with the existing action plan, voluntary actions by transport providers and if recommendations in the report are approved, a recent DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) states that Leeds is likely to fail EU air quality standards by 2020 due to levels of emissions along a stretch of the inner ring road at the Armley Gyratory.

The council has agreed to carry out more precise monitoring and if this shows that emissions are too high, and the voluntary measures being looked at won’t reduce pollution to the target levels, only then will the council consider introducing a clean air zone, previously called low emission zones.

DEFRA are encouraging the council to implement clean air zones as part of their action plan to ensure places at risk of exceeding EU targets can reduce pollution.

If the UK can’t meet these targets by 2020, multi-million pound fines could be handed down by the EU.

Councillor Mark Dobson, executive member for environmental protection and community safety, said:

“With the immensely positive health benefits people could experience and the possibility of severe financial penalties, doing nothing is not an option.

“In fact, we’ve been working to green our own fleet, encouraging people to use sustainable transport and seeing where we can influence others or remove barriers for the transport industry to make positive changes for some time.

“This alone isn’t going to be enough. So we need to think about and act on what we can all do as businesses, communities and individuals about our travel habits that will cut pollution and improve air quality.

“And let’s be clear; this is not about being ‘anti-car’. People and goods need to get from A to B, but we want to be able to do this in a way that is sustainable, improves air quality and isn’t going to contribute to unnecessary deaths.”

Councillor Lisa Mulherin, executive member for health, wellbeing and adults, said:

“The evidence that shows the impact of poor air quality on our health is unequivocal.

“Poor air quality contributed to more deaths in the UK than passive smoking, road casualties and drug misuse combined in 2012. In Leeds this equates to 350 deaths.

“It’s not all gloom and doom though. We all have the ability to make changes that will help Leeds cut transport emissions and improve people’s health.

“We’re under no illusions that this is going to be easy nor will it happen over-night. However, we all have a duty to those people who feel the effect of poor air quality the most to do what we can to improve their quality of life.”

The report asks executive board members to endorse the West Yorkshire Low Emissions Strategy 2016-2021. This provides the framework for the council’s own existing action plan to improve air quality, which members are also being asked to endorse.

The report on transport vision also being considered by executive board supports the changes required to improve Leeds’ air quality.

If approved, the council would allocate parking spaces for electric vehicles in council car parks by April 2016, work towards more stringent targets to reduce the worst type of pollution and continue to use planning conditions to introduce charging points in new developments.

Emissions on key parts of the inner ring road would be monitored and further work carried out to determine if clean air zones would be required.

For media enquiries contact:

Leeds City Council Communications team