Prior to the release of Southampton City Council's 'Clean Air' consultation later today, here are the comments submitted by Southampton Liberal Democrats to the consultation:
The Southampton City Council (SCC) Plans for a Class B Clean Air Zone are rather timid. As currently presented, they are little more than a 'minimum viable product', which seeks only to meet basic legal requirements, and little more. This despite many leading health and research organisations stating that there are no safe limits for air pollution.
As the aim is simply to do just enough to meet the basic legal requirements, how confident can we as residents of Southampton be of SCC delivering real and significant improvements to air quality?
We are also concerned that:
- Projections for road traffic growth in the years ahead, as highlighted in the transport consultation, suggest an increase of 74,000 journeys in the city per day by 2040. In the medium to long term, this increases the risk of non-compliance with government requirements.
- Particulate matter is only mentioned once in the consultation and that the danger from this is overlooked.
- Research shows that the public health consequences of air pollution are damaging, yet SCC appears not to have undertaken a study of the health impact of air pollution specifically on the residents of Southampton. Unless SCC seeks to go beyond the minimum then there is a danger that these significant health risks to the population will continue to go unchecked.
Southampton Liberal Democrats believe that greater consideration should have been given to Class C and D Clean Air Zones and that it was wrong to exclude these from the consultation.
As SCC's own air quality strategy states 34.1% of air pollution in the city comes from HGVs and 23.9% comes from cars. While it is right to ensure that HGVs' contribution to pollution is reduced, car use in Southampton will also have to decrease to improve air quality. Other cities, Birmingham for example, have decided that charging cars is the right way to tackle air pollution.
However, given the inadequacy of alternatives to car use in Southampton, we recognise that charging car users would be unfair. We need rapid and more effective measures to encourage the use of more sustainable forms of transport: walking, cycling, buses and trains. SCC's draft vision for transport appears (despite its verbosity) to be laudable, but unless rapid measures are taken to incentivise more sustainable forms of transport and reduce car use then a Class B Clean Air Zone is unlikely to meet its targets.
Improving the environment must be a collective endeavour involving all sections of the community: residents, businesses and local government. SCC however must lead the way and not be timid in seeking to improve the quality of citizens' lives. While we support the introduction of a Class B Clean Air Zone, its impact is likely to only go so far in improving air quality, and as such we believe that additional measures are required.
We agree with the principle of charging the most polluting vehicles and if Southampton Liberal Democrats were running SCC we would ringfence the income from the charges envisaged for the implementation of sustainable transport policies and infrastructure. We trust that Labour-controlled SCC will do the same.
Furthermore, SCC has to meet obligations in respect of climate change and a zero-carbon future. If SCC were serious about improving air quality and doing our share to mitigate climate change it would propose more far-reaching measures. There is considerable overlap in the policies required to improve air quality and combat climate change.
It is vital that SCC links the issue of air quality to its wider transport strategy and, in addition, should work closely with neighbouring authorities to facilitate the establishment of Park and Ride sites and the reopening of the Waterside railway line. These projects need to be progressed rapidly to encourage a shift in favour of public transport use.
The port of Southampton is overlooked in the consultation, but it is vital that the port makes good on its undertaking to set up a port plug in for cruise ships as soon as possible. The residents of Bargate, Freemantle, Millbrook and Redbridge, in particular, suffer from the additional air pollution generated by the port. It is important that more freight and cargo is transported by rail, and we support moves to enhance rail capacity. If local green space is lost other local brownfield sites should be converted to green space to compensate.