Air Quality

Our response to the joint Newcastle City Council, Gateshead Council and North Tyneside Council Air Quality public consultation calls for more green infrastructure and less overdevelopment, as well as measures to prioritise walking, cycling and public transport.

Our response is set out below.

We support plans to create more efficient bus routes and to upgrade vehicles with cleaner engine technology, to improve cycle networks and to promote car sharing. We acknowledge that reducing primary pollutant emissions is a priority for improving air quality, however, Green Infrastructure (GI) should have a pivotal role in ensuring better air quality in urban environments. Measures to improve air quality must not be limited to a charging clean air zone or low emissions zone. There are several additional measures, which must be considered to improve air quality.

Overdevelopment in Newcastle has resulted in loss, and/or under provision of, green open space, with thousands of houses being built to the north and west of the city on greenfield sites in areas poorly served by public transport. This overdevelopment has inevitably resulted in more car journeys in and around the city centre; a pattern that will be repeated in other local authority areas, if measures are not in place to encourage more people to walk, cycle or use public transport.

In view of the impact of overdevelopment on traffic congestion and air quality, local authorities must review policies on development which exceeds the recommendations within local plans. Loss of green space inevitably harms the health and wellbeing of residents, particularly children, who are 55% less likely to develop mental health issues if they grow up near green spaces1.

The consultation refers briefly to the introduction of moss walls, however, GI is a natural solution to tackling many of the issues facing urban environments and must be given greater weight when considering air quality. In addition to mitigating for the harmful effects of air pollution by controlling the flow and distribution of pollutants, GI reduces the urban heat island effect, thus mitigating for the impact of climate change. It also supports biodiversity and improves health and wellbeing.

Vegetation aids the deposition and removal of airborne pollutants and can be introduced in appropriate locations in the form of trees, hedgerows, living walls, green roofs, wildflower areas, as well as parks and open spaces. Research shows that asthma rates among children were significantly lower in areas with more street trees2, however, trees in the wrong place can trap pollutants, thus exacerbating poor air quality. Appropriate location and type of GI is important. For example, studies show that low hedges can be more effective than street trees in reducing the impact of pollution from vehicles in areas where there are large buildings close to roads3 and broadleaf trees with larger leaf surface areas are more effective at absorbing pollutants. Research suggests that greening urban environments can reduce pollution by 30% and that green walls can sometimes be more effective than street trees4.

As well as trapping harmful particulate matter, GI can form green corridors that will, for many, enhance the prospect of walking and cycling5. Given the benefits to people, wildlife and the wider environment, more emphasis should be given to GI, and resources from the National Green Infrastructure Facility in Newcastle should be drawn upon.

Although introducing a charging zone will act as a disincentive to many car users, it will not reduce the number of vehicles on the road and surrounding areas will suffer the consequences. Greater weight must be given to improving public transport and offering more reasonably priced fares, to make public transport a more attractive and viable option and we would like to see details of how this will be achieved. Public transport is all too often overly expensive and unreliable, with many people choosing to drive as an alternative. Local authorities must therefore prioritise working more closely with bus companies and developers to ensure sufficient infrastructure is in place. They must also prioritise working with schools and community groups to ensure public transport is a more viable alternative, in particular school buses to reduce traffic congestion during term time, as well as with employers and businesses to secure flexible working for employees. Newcastle is supposedly at the forefront of a digital revolution, therefore should be ideally placed to provide innovative solutions to facilitate homeworking. 

In summary, local authorities in Tyneside must take a more holistic approach to tackling the air quality crisis by reviewing development policies on housing numbers and open space, promoting walking, cycling and public transport and enhancing GI.

We trust these comments will be given due consideration and used to inform the Final Business Case for the Tyneside Air Quality Feasibility Study.

Save Newcastle Wildlife

1.     Engemann, K., Pedersen, C.B., Arge, L., Tsirogiannis, C., Mortensen, P.B., Svenning, J-C., (2019). Residential green space in childhood is associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood. PNAS

2.     Lovasi, G. S., Quinn, J. W., Neckerman, K. M., Perzanowski, M. S., & Rundle, A. (2008). Children living in areas with more street trees have lower prevalence of asthma. Journal of epidemiology and community health62(7), 647–649. doi:10.1136/jech.2007.071894

3.     Abhijith, K.V., Kumar, P., Gallagher, J., McNabola, A., Baldauf, R., Pilla, F., Broaderick, B., Di Sabatino, S., Pulvirenti, B., 2017. Air Pollution Abatement Performances of Green Infrastructure in Open Road and Built-up Street Canyon Environments – A Review. Atmospheric Environment

Online link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2017.05.014

4.     Pugh, T. A. M., A. R. MacKenzie, J. D. Whyatt, and C. N. Hewitt (2012). “The effectiveness of green infrastructure for improvement of air quality in urban street canyons.” Environmental Science & Technology, 46 (14), 7692-7699. DOI: 10.1021/es300826w.

5.     https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/green_infrastruture_air_pollution_may_19.pdf

6.     http://uk-air.defra.gov.uk

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