Poor air quality is now considered to be the largest environmental health risk in the UK.
While there are lots of different types of pollutants, Nitrogen Dioxide (or ‘NO2’) and Particulate Matter (or ‘PM’) are considered to be the most important in Southampton.
Short term exposure to high levels of these pollutants can cause irritation and aggravate conditions like asthma, while long term exposure to high levels can increase the risk of lung and heart conditions.
We are committed to meeting and maintaining compliance with national air quality objectives, but it is also our ambition to continue to reduce emissions under our ‘Green City Charter’ as we recognise that any improvements have the opportunity to improve public health.
Where does air pollution come from?
Key outdoor air pollutants in the city are mainly emitted from traffic. Diesel cars are responsible for most of these emissions, but buses and lorries also contribute a large amount. Shipping and industrial sources also add to high levels of pollutants in the city.
Domestic wood burning in stoves and open fires is one of the largest sources of particulates in certain neighbourhoods, especially during the winter.
What are we doing to improve air quality?
Local authorities are required to monitor local air quality to identify where ‘national air quality objectives’ are not being met. Southampton meets all air quality objectives other than that for yearly average levels of nitrogen dioxide in certain areas. Most of our measures focus on reducing emissions of this pollutant by tackling its main source, road transport. As a result of these measures, levels of this pollutant have been improving steadily.
1. Air Quality Action Plan
Since 2005 we have declared 10 ‘Air Quality Management Areas’ (AQMAs) where objectives for nitrogen dioxide were not being met. These are all located on busy roads, mostly near junctions. You can find out more about these on our AQMA page.
Our Air Quality Action Plan sets out what measures will be implemented in each AQMA to meet objectives here, as well as city-wide measures.
Progress towards meeting objectives in AQMAs and a list of management measures are presented through a regular ‘Annual Status Report’. These can be found on the reports page.
2. The Local NO2 Plan
We were one of the first five local authorities in the UK required to assess the need for a charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ) to meet air quality objectives for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). A charging CAZ would involve charging certain types of road vehicles entering the city.
We presented a business case to central government setting out that a charging CAZ would not be needed to meet objectives, instead, a series of non-charging measures (‘The Local NO2 Plan’) would be implemented to ensure that air quality objectives could be met within the shortest possible time. The business case was approved by government in 2019 and we have been implementing measures broadly in line with the plan since.
In 2019, we held a public consultation with our local taxi trade to review the change of use of the bus lanes across the city. We proposed that access would be restricted to taxi and private hire vehicles licenced in Southampton only, all other taxis would be fined for using the bus lanes. The result of this consultation indicated that our local trade did not support these proposed changes. As a result, we have been working with Government on a change in approach to this. In November 2020, we received confirmation that our proposed change to the bus lane changes had been approved. You can review these updated documents here:
Documents relating to our Local NO2 Plan can be found on the reports page.
3. Clean Air Strategy 2019-25
Our Clean Air Strategy sets out our board approach to improving air quality in the city, including principles, priority areas and commitments up to 2025.
4. The Green City Charter and Plan
Our Green City Charter details the challenging goals we have set ourselves to create a cleaner, greener, healthier and more sustainable city. In March 2020, we announced our Green City Plan that identifies the outcomes and activities we want to achieve in the next three years. One of the five themes is ‘Delivering Clean Air’ which builds on our existing plans and strategies. A key commitment of this theme is to look beyond compliance with objectives and strive to achieve continual improvements in air quality for the benefit of public health.
As part of our Green City commitments, our existing Air Quality Action Plan will be renewed. This will involve evaluating how larger scale measures including workplace parking levies, localised road closure and emissions based parking charges might help make further meaningful improvements to air quality.
Find out more about our Green City.