Category Archives: Air Quality

Motion on Air Quality Action Plans

 (Updated on 1st Jan 2018 to include the Oxford Mail article and Cllr Ware’s update about Air Quality Action Plan items in blue italics,.)

(Long post, sorry)

In 2015 Council published their Air Quality Action Plan, which contained 11 actions Vale committed to doing (most of them by 2017).

It looked to us Liberal Democrats like none of the action items had been completed, so we asked a question of the Cabinet member for Environmental Protection at last week’s full council meeting. You can see the question here.

We expected to get status updates for all of the outstanding actions. In anticipation of the Tories demonstrating that they hadn;t done what they said they would, Liberal Democrat Cllrs Catherine Webber and Debby Hallett tabled a motion requesting Cabinet to put funding in place for all our unmet commitments contained in the Air Quality Action Plan of 2015. 

Here’s the motion:

Proposed by Cllr Catherine Webber, seconded by Cllr Debby Hallett

This Council has statutory obligations to measure and monitor Air Quality in the District, to declare Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) where pollution is high, and to produce Air Quality Action Plans (AQAPs).

This Council also has an obligation to facilitate and implement the actions recommended in AQAPs, wherever possible.

This Council recognises the importance of taking action to reduce air pollution. To that end, Council requests Cabinet to do two things:

  • Include in their 2018/19 budget funding for all projects recommended in our 2015 AQAP that are not yet completed, and
  • Ensure this Council has a Low Emissions Strategy similar to that of South Oxfordshire District Council, which will focus Council’s efforts to reduce air pollution, particularly in Vale’s AQMAs.

The quality of the debate was dissappointing, to say the least. Here are some of the notable Tory contributions:

Cllr Eric Batts, Cabinet member, had some thoughts about my mention of Government’s estimate that 50 people die per year in Vale per year due to air pollution (I quoted Government’s report and its statistical modelling, which actually said 52 people die prematurely in Vale from exposure to air pollution). He said, “I used to live in North Hinksey and I never felt any ill effects from pollution. And the 50 people maybe include people who have come here from India or Pakistan.” (I hope he was thinking about their polluted large cities and not blaming high air pollution deaths in Vale on immigrants.)

A few days later, Cllr Batts expanded on his opinion for a reporter from the Oxford Times:

Cllr Elaine Ware, Cabinet member, said the failure to progress the action items from the 2015 Air Quality Action Plan was due to having a ‘very very hard time recruiting to fill the vacancies on the team’. (Could that have anything to do with the low staff morale caused by all the outsourcing they’ve done, and the Tories’ risky decisions to let too many of senior managers and officers leave the council?) (See her answers about Air Quailty Action Plan commitments here:

Cllr Mike Badcock contributed the interesting idea that the cause of the pollution out the Marcham Road was the successful implementation several years back (10 or more?) of the Abits one way street system in central Abingdon, which worked to reduce air pollution from standing vehicles in Abingdon. He said that scheme worked by pushing the pollution out the A415 towards Marcham. That may be, I don’t know. But it was irrelevant to the debate.

Cllr Roger Cox, Cabinet member, added to the irrelevant comments by telling us in a shaking voice that the “previous administration” (which ended when they took control 6 years ago) only had a part time (.25fte) air quality officer, but they (the Tories) have hired a new PhD level officer. (Cllr Webber reminded him that the new officer is also part time and works 18 hrs per week.) He can get rattled when faced with logical arguments.

Cllr Ed Blagrove, Cabinet member, said that we should not spend money until we know what the new officer thinks. (Of course it WAS the officers who suggested Vale should have a Low Emission Zone Strategy, one similar to that which SODC recently adopted for their people. And the Low Emission Zone Strategy was one of the ll action items from the 2-15 Air Quality Action Plan.)

I don’t recall that the Leader Cllr Matthew Barber spoke to this motion.

So the debaters missed the point. (All but Cllr Ware, and I think I’d like to hear more about how failure to recruit staff is causing council to be unable to do the work it commits to do.)

The motion was to call for Cabinet to properly fund the work council committed to doing back in 2015, and has not done.

The motion was voted down: 8 For (all the Liberal Democrats), 20 Against (all were Tory) and 3 Abstentions (all were Tory). The abstainers couldn’t find it in themselves to vote against the motion, but it looks like they were whipped to not vote for it. We called for a named vote, so you’ll be able to see the three abstainers when the minutes are published.

Question in Council on Air Quality Action Plans

(Updated 1 Jan 18 to  include Cabinet member’s reply  – in green italics)

At the full Vale council meeting on 13 Dec 2017, the Liberal Democrat Cllr Emily Smith asked a question of the Cabinet member for Environmental Protection Elaine Ware. Despite the fact that the question was submitted on time, 10 days before the council meeting, the Cabinet member said she was unable to supply an answer on the night, promising a written response in a few days. We had the reply on 21st Dec 2017. 

Here is the question:

Question from Cllr Emily Smith to Cabinet Member for Environmental Protection, Cllr Elaine Ware:

In the 2015 Air Quality Management Plan the 11 district wide actions were:

1. Creation of a ‘low emission strategy’ and ‘low emission zone’ feasibility study (target date 2017) – Named as a focus of work for 2017-18 in the Annual Status Report. This work is dependent on external funding. We are currently compiling a bid for a Defra air quality grant with Ricardo to undertake this work

2. Installation of electric vehicle recharging points – Planning conditions requiring electric charging points are placed on applicable planning applications

3. Parking permit & pricing incentives for green vehicles (target date 2016) – Target delayed due to resources. An air quality officer 0.5 post has been recruited and is currently undergoing training. Once this is completed the action plan target will
be rescheduled.

4. Feasibility study for freight transport consolidation centre (FCC) / freight quality partnership (target date 2016) – Initial discussions with OCC and other Local Authorities have concluded that this is a long-term action and will be raised when the new Oxfordshire infrastructure proposals are discussed.

5. Taxi licensing incentives for green vehicles (target date 2016) – Target delayed due to resources. An air quality officer 0.5 post has been recruited and is currently undergoing training. Once this is completed the action plan target with be rescheduled.

6. Improved use and enforcement of traffic regulation orders (target date 2016) – This action will be included in the proposed Low Emission Strategy study

7. Review of the council and contractors fleet – Named as a focus of work for 2017-18 in the Annual Status Report and is underway. New waste vehicles with improved emission standards are now operated by Biffa the waste contractor.

8. Eco driver training (trial to be complete by 2016) – Target delayed due to resources. An air quality officer 0.5 post has been recruited and is currently undergoing training. Once this is completed the action plan target will be rescheduled.

9. Air quality planning guidance (target date 2015) – This is referenced in the LPP2 proposals and consultation is taking place with various officers in planning to complete the document (target January 2018)

10. Community involvement projects – Named as a focus of work for 2017-18 in the Annual Status Report. The Vale is involved with Sustrans and local Abingdon groups to investigate a simple project connecting cycle routes in Abingdon and produce a dedicated map promoting cycling in the town. Botley schools – potential project supporting air quality as part of curriculum. Plan to apply for Defra funding for a public outreach project as a joint application with other Oxfordshire Councils in 2018. This would connect with schools, GP and local groups.

11. Introduce south facing slip roads to Lodge Hill interchange – This action has been approved nationally and is being executed by Oxfordshire County Council.

Please can the cabinet member confirm which of these actions are complete and provide an update of those which are not? What evidence do we have that each of these measures has been successful or otherwise?



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


Botley Air Quality Levels 2005-2014

Here are the historical values for levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the Botley Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and other locations nearby.

In February 2016, Vale officer Tim Williams kindly took me on a tour of Botley, so I could see for myself the locations of the diffusion tubes currently in use. He shared his data with me, which I appreciate.

I’ve highlighted in yellow every location and year when the average reading exceeded the EU threshold (currently 40 micrograms per cubic meter). Botley AQMA table

To make this table fit here, I’ve hidden two columns: Hutchcomb Road and Harcourt Hill. Hutchcomb Road is the baseline area. It’s still tracked but figures there are under 20.  Harcourt Hill was only measured for 2 years (2010-11) and figures there were under 30.

Many people express concern about Botley School. Their figures are in the table above. Figures were consistently low, so measurement ceased after 2009.

Here’s the map of the Botley AQMA. In the green areas, our air pollution is or has been above EU limits.Botley AQMA map

For more information on Vale Air Quality, see the Vale’s website:


Two planning appeals upheld

Two separate appeals against decisions to refuse planning applications in Botley have been upheld this week. I’m disappointed.

First, the applicant for flats at the congested and dangerous corner of 2 Lime Rd and 50 Laburnum Rd wasn’t satisfied with permission for 7 flats, and wanted 9 instead, which require another storey. Vale refused, but applicant has successfully appealed. This development is overly tall and massive, with little amenity for residents and not enough onsite parking. It’s also unneighbourly, but will certainly line the applicant’s pockets well. A poor decision, not in the public interest, but in the interest of the land owner there.

26-28 Westminster Way has also had their appeal upheld. They also had permission for flats over 3 storeys, but greedily wanted more over 4 storeys. That’s been allowed. Concers there about not enough on site parking and building residences that overlook the noisy and polluted A34.

All of these decisions have to do with the fact that Vale still do not have a 5 year land supply for housing development. Until we do, nearly all applications for housing will be approved. Prepare yourselves for even more awful and ugly developments. There is no requirement for quality, beauty or enough parking.

I asked last night at a planning training session if the priority for Vale was to achieve this 5 year land supply. I was told yes. When I asked how we were working on it, I was told that once the Local Plan is approved, we will be there. So the main strategy seems to be to wait for approval of the Local Plan? But that might not happen for two or more years! In the meantime, all our communities are being overrun with cheap as chips, over-crowded flat developments, even right up alongside the noisy and polluting A34.

It’s an astonishing failure of planning policy. Tories have had more than 4 years to get a Local Plan adopted, and we are still a long way away.

Government must take “immediate action” on air pollution

The UK supreme court ruled last week that the new government must take immediate action to deal with our illegal levels of air pollution in Britian.

See the Client Earth article here:

I wonder what this will mean to the Vale of White Horse? It’s been an ongoing struggle for the past four years to get the Tory cabinet member to deal with the AQMA in Botley. Maybe this will finally be enough motivation.

Or maybe there will be a change in the Vale administration this week.