1. What is the Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP)?
This is a Policy document that contains series of 25 actions and measures to be taken by Exeter City Council and its partners to try to improve nitrogen dioxide levels within Air Quality Management Areas and across the city. There is no simple single option and that a number of complementary actions are proposed.
2. Why does Exeter need one?
The Council has a statutory duty to assess air quality across the borough and to compare pollution levels against national objective limits. If these objective limits are exceeded then the Council must designate that area an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and produce an Action Plan to try to improve the air quality. This Action Plan is proposed as an update to the last Exeter Action Plan, which was published in 2011.
3. Does Exeter have a major problem with pollution?
The majority of Exeter has good air quality but there are areas close to major roads that exceed the national objective limit for nitrogen dioxide. Air quality levels in Exeter are similar to other authorities. Across the UK there are over 700 Air Quality Management Areas in over 300 local authorities.
The Exeter Air Quality Management Area was designated in 2008, and follows the major routes into and around the city centre. Our data shows that generally across Exeter air pollution levels have reduced over recent years.
4. What are the main aims of the AQAP?
The main aim is to improve air quality within Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and therefore improve the health of residents. Whilst the actions are targeted towards nitrogen dioxide, there is expected to be a wider health benefit from reductions in other pollutants, such as particulates, across the whole city.
5. How have these action points been developed?
Officers from the Environmental Health and Licensing team at the City Council have worked with senior managers and councillors to develop the draft plan. Officers from other parts of the city council (such as planning and economic development) will need to help implement the plan, as will officers from Devon County Council.
6. How does the plan support health and wellbeing in Exeter?
Air quality is an environmental risk to the public’s health.
It is estimated that there are almost 50,000 premature deaths from poor air quality in the UK each year.
For Exeter, it is estimated that poor air quality causes approximately 42 premature deaths per year. People who live in deprived areas; near major roads; and due to their age and any existing medical conditions are more at risk. Pollution peaks can make existing health conditions worse and lead to increased hospital emissions and affect peoples’ quality of life.
Health studies from around the world have highlighted potential impacts on cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, diabetes, cancer, stroke and heart attack risk, dementia and certain cancers.
Evidence of health impacts at a local level though is sparse, however. Therefore, as part of the Action Plan the City Council intends to seek a detailed opinion from Public Health Devon on the air quality levels and health data.
7. What are the major challenges facing Exeter in regards to air quality?
A number of areas are outside of the Council’s direct control. For example Devon County Council is the Highways Authority and operates the local road network. The motorway network is operated by Highways England. National policies also impact on air quality in the city, such as taxation that has encouraged the growth in diesel vehicles, national public transport infrastructure and planning policies.
It is important that we address our infrastructure needs and plan for future growth.
The way we live currently is also based around private car use, and long term actions need to encourage alternative forms of transport.
8. What work is already being carried out to improve air quality in Exeter?
A number of actions are already been carried out to try to improve air quality, through the previous Action Plan. For example:
- Exeter Low Emissions Strategy
- Newcourt station.
- Cranbrook station.
- Tithebarn link for new bus route to Cranbrook.
- Car clubs on new areas of development.
- Extensions and improvements to the cycling network.
- Personal exposure projects to highlight the beneficial effects of alternative travel modes, or travel routes on personal exposure to PM2.5.
- Taxi emissions licensing standards.
- Reductions in Exeter City Council fleet fuel use and roll out of electric pool cars.
- 6 diesel vans in the ECC fleet have been replaced with electric.
- Bridge Road widening.
- Car club electric bike hire scheme.
- Devon-wide Ecostars scheme to reduce emissions from commercial vehicle fleets
Whilst these and other actions carried out are positive for improving air quality, levels still remain above the objective in a few places and more radical solutions need to be considered. Therefore the new draft action plan is being proposed.
9. Which areas of the city are affected by the plan? Why those areas?
The Plan concentrates on improving air quality in the Air Quality Management Area, particularly in Heavitree where the highest levels of pollution are measured. Actions though, are expected to have wider benefits across the borough as a whole.
10. Are there any examples of steps that local authorities around the country are taking to improve air quality?
There are a number of examples of best practice across the country which the Council has considered when drafting the Action Plan.
A Workplace Charging Levy was introduced in Nottingham, which has been used to make major investment in the public transport network.
Clean Air Zones are being considered by a number of authorities, with the London Low Emission Zone being the most well-known example.
A number of Councils, including Exeter, have introduced electric vehicle charging points in public car parks.
11. Won’t many of the proposals have a negative impact on motorists and businesses?
The Council’s aim is to improve congestion which will reduce emissions and ultimately benefit everyone who wants to travel in the city. Proposals to reduce private individual car travel in the city are matched by plans to provide alternative means of transport that are more attractive, support businesses to engage with sustainable travel and increase the length of time people spend in the city centre.
The draft plan does include potential access restrictions or limits to the age and type of vehicles which can enter certain areas of the city. These are intended to be very targeted at certain locations and certain types of vehicle and would not be introduced without further detailed impact assessment studies.
12. Why have the Council ruled out a Clean Air Zone?
The Council does not plan at this stage to implement a branded Clean Air Zone (CAZ). If replies to the consultation are strongly in support of a branded CAZ then the Council will review this position.
The main reasons that a branded CAZ is not thought suitable for Exeter are:
- The CAZ framework is prescriptive about how any access restrictions must work, including the type of vehicles which must be included and the emissions standards that must be met. The City Council prefers to retain flexibility to decide locally what vehicles should be included and what standards they must meet.
- The majority of the measures in DEFRAs CAZ Framework can be implemented without a branded CAZ, and are included in the draft plan.
13. The measures in the draft plan are not very detailed, and there is little information on what their impact will be.
The draft plan has been released for public engagement to seek the support (or otherwise) of the public for the broad themes and actions it contains. The details of actions will then be finalised, and many measures will then be subject to separate consultation. This is particularly the case for the Workplace Parking Levy and any access restrictions or charging schemes.
It is not possible to predict the likely air quality impact of measures in more detail than has been presented in the draft plan at this stage. This is because modelling air pollution levels is a very technical process and a lot of detail is required to put into the model. That level of detail on the measures is not yet available, but will be presented as part of future consultations on specific measures.
14. Will the Council consider other suggestions for actions which are not in the draft plan?
Yes, the City Council welcomes alternative actions and measures that are put forward by the public, community groups and partners. Replies to the consultation should try to include detail on how they would work in practice so that we can understand what is proposed and consider it properly.
15. What can communities do to help?
For any action to reduce emissions to be effective, it needs not only the support of the local population, but also their action. Individual behaviour will have to change, starting in small ways. For example turning off engines when idling, or using alternative travel modes where these are practical for the journey in question should become the social norm. Leadership and assistance from businesses and community groups will be needed to make this happen. Exeter City Council and Devon County Council can support people to make these changes, and provide them with the infrastructure to do so, but ultimately the community needs to shift its attitudes and expectations. Positive action by informed and engaged community groups will receive the full support of the Council to achieve this. There are now many examples of such action available online, as well as packs for community organisers to help them facilitate particular campaigns.
As part of this consultation, Exeter City Council would like to hear from community and other groups about projects that they would like to take forward, and will provide what support it can to such projects. Through the recently announced successful bid for Sport England Local Delivery Pilot status we will have a programme of work within which community projects relating active travel may be supported.
16. How can people have their say on the plan?
We are encouraging residents and business to make comments on the AQAP. Comments can be made via the on-line questionnaire. This seeks views on each the 25 actions proposed and allows any comments on additional additions that could be considered. Paper copies are available of the questionnaire if requested and we will also consider any general email comments made.
In addition public meetings will be held where the public can talk to members of the air quality team.
17. What will happen at the end of the consultation?
At the end of the consultation, all comments received will be reviewed and if necessary the plan will be amended. A summary of the responses and the details on the next stage will be presented on the Council website.
18. What are the timescales for the adoption of the AQAP?
The consultation is proposed to run until the 12 May 2018. Depending upon comments received, the finalised AQAP is expected to be adopted by September 2018.