Newcastle: Cleanest and Greenest

Newcastle City Council’s February Policy Cabinet meeting on air quality, will take place tomorrow, Thursday, 1st February at 4.30pm in the Urban Sciences Building in Science Central, Newcastle City Centre.

The discussion paper, which sets out Newcastle’s vision to be one of the ‘cleanest, greenest and most innovative cities in Northern Europe’ does not refer to the role of green infrastructure in mitigating for the harmful effects of air pollution.

Our written submission, which focuses largely on the importance of green infrastructure, can be read below.

Save Newcastle Wildlife Written Submission – February 2018 Policy Cabinet Meeting on Air Quality

 

Save Newcastle Wildlife is committed to protecting wildlife and green spaces in Newcastle. We have already called on Newcastle City Council to enhance green infrastructure across the city1, to improve the environment for wildlife and people, and to mitigate for the harmful effects of air pollution. This document is our written submission ahead of the February Policy Cabinet meeting on air quality.

 

We welcome Newcastle City Council’s ambition to prioritise more sustainable modes of transport in a bid to reduce emissions and improve air quality across the city. Prioritising green infrastructure, including the introduction of wildflower areas, living walls, green roofs, trees and hedgerows should also be critical to the council’s wider ambition to improve air quality.

 

National Planning Policy Framework defines green infrastructure as a network of multi-functional green space capable of delivering a wide range of environmental and quality of life benefits for local communities. NPPF guidance states the planning system should enhance the natural and local environment by recognising the wider benefits of ecosystem services and establish coherent ecological networks resilient to current and future pressures. Green infrastructure is an essential component of good planning for both urban and rural areas2 and one of the many recognised benefits of green infrastructure is its ability to mitigate for the harmful effects of air pollution.

 

Research shows urban trees can remove large amounts of air pollution and improve urban air quality3 and that asthma rates among children are significantly lower in areas with more street trees4. Deposition rates of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter from vehicle emissions to vegetation are much higher than those to hard, built surfaces5 and studies have shown that even a single tree has been estimated to reduce particulate matter concentration by 15-20 % immediately behind the tree,6,7 while two or three rows of trees with a relatively high planting density could provide significant benefits8. Shade from trees can also serve to reduce the urban heat island effect, which can contribute to levels of urban air pollution.

 

Local air flows and concentrations of pollutants affect the pollutant removal potential of vegetation, and this must be taken into account when deciding on the most appropriate form of green infrastructure in locations across the city. Species choice is important: trees with large leaf surface area are known to be more effective at removing pollutants than smaller leaf species9.

 

It is widely acknowledged that exposure to air pollution harms human health. We acknowledge the main focus of the consultation is to improve air quality for people, however, air pollution can also have severe consequences for wildlife and biodiversity.

 

High concentrations of nitrogen in the air can have a detrimental effect on many plant species10, which has an adverse effect on the species that depend on these plants. Studies show air pollution can contribute to several diseases in many animals, and birds, due to their higher respiratory rates, are thought to be increasingly susceptible to air pollution11.

 

The introduction of wildflower verges, hedgerows and trees along roads, streets, and pedestrian and cycle networks, as well as green walls and living roofs, can all mitigate for the harmful effects of air pollution. Parks and gardens, amenity green space, green corridors, allotments, churchyards and cemeteries in the city should also be enhanced to ensure improved air quality, and for the economic, social and environmental benefits they provide.

 

Green infrastructure must be at the heart of Newcastle’s vision to be one of the cleanest, greenest and most innovative cities in Northern Europe. Not only will this improve air quality for people in Newcastle, but it will support wildlife and biodiversity and mitigate for the effects of climate change. It would also create opportunities to provide accessible natural environments for people to enjoy.

 

In view of the above, we would like Newcastle City Council to adopt policies that seek to increase tree cover and enhance green infrastructure across the city to tackle air pollution, and to work in partnership with stakeholders to deliver these policies. The council should also seek to secure robust and interconnected systems of green infrastructure in all new development, to ensure a consistent approach to improving air quality.

 

We trust these comments will be taken into account when considering future policy on air quality.

  1. Put Nature on the Map in Newcastle. Change.org. Save Newcastle Wildlife
  2. Green Infrastructure Guidance. Natural England.
  3. Nowak, D.J. (1994) Air pollution removal by Chicago’s urban forest. In: McPherson, E.G, D.J. Nowak and R.A. Rowntree. Chicago’s Urban Forest Ecosystem: Results of the Chicago Urban Forest Climate Project. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report NE-186. pp. 63-81
  4. Lovasi, G., Quinn, J., Neckerman, K., Perzanowski, M. & Rundle, A. (2008) Children living in areas with more street trees have lower prevalence of asthma. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 62(7), pp. 647
  5. Effectiveness of Green Infrastructure for Improvement of Air Quality in Urban Street Canyons, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2012, 46 (14), pp 7692–7699
  6. Bealey, W.J. et al. (2007) Estimating the reduction of urban PM10 concentrations by trees within an environmental information system for planners, Journal of Environmental Management 85, 44–58.
  7. Mitchell, R., Maher, B.A. (2009) Evaluation and application of biomagnetic monitoring of traffic- derived particulate pollution. Atmospheric Environment 43, 2095–2103.
  8. Jim, C. Y. and Chen, W. Y. (2003) Assessing the ecosystem service of air pollutant removal by urban trees in Guangzhou (China), Journal of Environmental Management 88, 665–676
  9. Urban Air Quality. Discussion Paper. The Woodland Trust
  10. We need to talk about Nitrogen: the impact of atmospheric nitrogen deposition on the UK’s wild flora and fungi. Plantlife. Plant Link UK
  11. Sanderfoot, O.V, Holloway, T. (2017) Air pollution impacts on avian species via inhalation exposure and associated outcomes

 

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