Air quality measurement improvement

For the 2017/18 budget, the Lib Dems have proposed a growth item to improve the way we measure air quality. The Tory administration will determine if they want to include this in the budget they bring to full council in Feb 2017.

I previously posted about Air Quality in the Vale here.

Here’s the proposal we’ve submitted for this budget:

A proposal to monitor air quality in the Vale

Purpose of the report

  1. Provide background information on air quality and air quality monitoring in the Vale.
  2. Propose means to improve the same and to put in place links and processes whereby by co-operating with the Oxford City and Oxfordshire County Councils remedial action might ultimately be achieved. A link to the Vale’s corporate objectives is provided.
  3. Propose a capital growth bid of £25,000 for air quality monitoring equipment and systems, and a £12,500 revenue growth bid for managing it.


There are a number of air pollution hot spots where excessive levels of oxides of nitrogen have been identified. These are associated with emissions from vehicles, especially diesels. In all probability other atmospheric pollutants such as carbon monoxide and ozone are very likely also to be at excessive levels. These proposals will quantify any such excesses.

The identified hot spots in the Vale are at Botley (53 microgrammes per cubic metre), Marcham (50mc), and Abingdon on Thames town centre (45mc).  All three are well above the recommended World Health Organisation (WHO) maximum exposure of 40mc.

These levels are known to be variously life-threatening and life-shortening for people with lung conditions such as asthma and obstructive pulmonary disease. The most recent public health report indicates that some 52 people in the Vale die prematurely each year because of air pollution.

Currently people at risk have no means of knowing when it is safe for them to leave their houses. These levels are also known to be harmful to the very young and the very old. All of this has been recognised in the County Councils transport strategy’s latest iteration (LTP4) for the first time.

In December 2015 the Government published a paper “Improving Air Quality in the UK…”  This set out frameworks for local government to introduce clean air zones. This would be achieved by banning various classes of diesel powered vehicles from urban centres starting with pilots in places such as Derby and Leeds. Oxford City could be a future target, because air quality is known to be poor in the City centre.

Currently the City spends about £12,000 annually on monitoring air quality with programmes which link with other DEFRA programmes for monitoring pollutants such as PM 10’s. In the Vale the monitoring of air quality (with the exception of a monitor in Stert Street, Abingdon) is only done using nitrogen dioxide diffusion tubes. This is very old technology and if we are to get the detailed information we need to make progress, then a modern system is required.  No controls over vehicles such as diesel powered HGV’s are possible without detailed and current (and preferably real time information.


That in accordance with the “Guide for Local Authorities Purchasing Air Quality Monitoring Equipment” produced by DEFRA the Vale should put in a capital growth bid to the capital programme for the purchase of single gas analyser and a particulate monitor at a cost of up to £25,000 plus a revenue bid of £12,000 for maintenance, data management  etc per annum to manage it.

The subsequent project should probably be based in Abingdon on Thames in the first instance, but subsequently could be based elsewhere in order to fully quantify atmospheric pollutant levels elsewhere. Initially it could provide continuous information on atmospheric pollution levels in hot spot(s) which could be made available on a regular basis on the Vale’s website and through local media. It should link to the work carried out in the City and provide information to back up the work of LTP4. The ultimate aim would be to provide sufficient information to enable Clean Air Zones to be established in the Vale where required.

It links to the Vale’s corporate objectives, especially in respect of Sustainable Communities and Wellbeing and the following bullet point:-

  • “where everyone can feel safe and enjoy life”

Currently as previously stated Vale residents in pollution hot spots with a range of pulmonary conditions have no idea when it is safe to go outside and when they should remain indoors.  The aim is to tackle current levels of atmospheric pollution in the same way that the 1956n Clean Air Act did for the “pea soupers”.

Cllr Bob Johnston 25/10/16