Category Archives: Air Quality

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.