Tackling air quality in Gateshead
Air quality is a term used to describe how polluted the air we breathe is. Pollutants in the air may be hazardous to people's health. Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades but there are still unacceptable levels of air pollution in many towns and cities in the UK.
Causes of air pollution
Air pollution is caused by many factors but by far the largest contributor is road transport, with diesel fuel the biggest source of pollution in many towns and cities across the UK. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and tiny invisible particles from exhaust fumes, tyres and brakes are present in the air we breathe, with some areas having very high levels..
What air pollution is doing to our health
Across the country poor air quality is linked to around 40,000 early deaths a year, including hundreds across Gateshead, Newcastle and North Tyneside.
Evidence from the World Health Organisation shows it's particularly dangerous to the health of the very young and very old, as well as people who are already living with long-term health conditions like asthma.
There's no safe level of exposure to air pollution, the effects of which build up over time. Air pollution is linked with cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. We are learning more about the impact on our health of this invisible pollutant all the time.
New research suggests that people who live in areas where there are high levels of pollution may be more at risk of developing dementia.
Air quality across Gateshead
Air quality is good across most of Gateshead. We have been monitoring nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and very small particulates (PM2.5) levels across the borough for many years. In some areas we have faced challenges with levels of pollution being higher than legal limits.
To tackle it we need to look at the wider area. Simply looking at local issues can just move the problem on to other areas, rather than solving it.
What we are doing to improve our air quality
We are working with neighbouring councils in Newcastle and North Tyneside to look at how we can deal with traffic related air pollution in our areas.
Recent government data shows that air quality on a section of the A167 Tyne Bridge and Central Motorway and part of the A1058 Coast Road will still be above legal limits by 2021 unless action is taken. The government has told us we must address this.
We are already working on a number of initiatives to improve air quality, including:
- creating more efficient bus routes
- improving cycle networks
- introducing emission standards for licensing of vehicles and taxis
- improving our own fleet by introducing cleaner vehicles
- upgrading traffic signals to keep traffic flowing and prevent congestion by co-ordinating movements through junctions
- working with partners on initiatives such as car sharing and car clubs
- promoting Go Smarter sessions in schools and workplaces
We are currently working on air quality and traffic data modelling to see what options would produce the most effective results. This will form the basis of a report to government on options for the area which will be followed by public consultation.
How you can help
Everyone can help improve our air quality and our health.
One of the ways we can make the biggest difference is to reduce the number of car journeys we make.
Look for alternatives to driving. Can you walk or cycle that short distance rather than take the car to work, school or to the shops?
Swapping just one or two car journeys a week for public transport, walking or cycling we would see a huge difference in air quality.
If you are thinking about changing your car, try to choose a model which has low or zero emissions.
If your vehicle is stationary for a long time, switching off the engine will make a big difference - including to your own health, as emissions inside the car are higher than they are outside.
Employers can help by setting up car sharing schemes or initiatives which offer staff incentives to use public transport or cycle to work.
You can find out more about pollution and tips on how you can help to reduce it at www.cleanairday.org.uk
Charging clean air zones
Following a court ruling, the government has placed a legal requirement on a number of councils across the country, including Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside, to address air quality in certain locations.
This means that we must implement measures which bring levels of pollution in the affected areas to within legal limits in the shortest possible time.
The government has been clear that councils must consider the impact a charging clean air zone would have and that any alternative to a charge must be at least as quick and as effective in addressing the problem.
Some other cities are already proposing the introduction of a charge but we don't yet know whether this would be needed here.
We are looking at a range of measures and at the impact they would be expected to have on pollution levels so that we can work out the best solution for our area.
How this may affect drivers
If a charge is introduced it may affect some drivers, depending on the type of vehicle you drive.
Charging clean air zones target only the most polluting vehicles which do not meet emissions standards. Therefore, newer vehicles and those with zero emissions would not be affected by a charge.
There are four different levels of charging clean air zone which target different types of vehicles, which include taxis - both hackney carriages and private hire vehicles - buses, HGVs, vans and cars.