Reaction to the Air Quality Action Plan 2015
1. What’s the story?
- I’ve been following up a story in the Sheffield Telegraph “Traffic Strategy on the Way” p5 12/12/13 (and also partially here). SCC has improving air quality high on the agenda for action and it needs to take, and be seen to be taking, effective action.
- The Council is likely to be heftily fined if it does not meet EU and UK air quality targets and has taken too little action to reduce it by 2015.
- The Council has an action plan for reducing air quality up to 2015 (AQAP 2015) which was adopted by Cabinet in July 2012 but it may be felt that not enough has been done in the last 18 months.
- After extensive and thorough monitoring, the report notes that road vehicles’ emissions contribute 50% of NOx pollution and 40% of particulate pollution in Sheffield and vehicle exhausts are the biggest single cause of air pollution.
2. Why is the story important?
- Sheffield’s Director of Public Health, now an SCC employee, has reported that approx 500 deaths a year can be attributed to the poor quality of Sheffield’s air (see p20&21 and the footnote on p21 of his 2013 report. ).
- Everyone of these deaths is classed as preventable. To put this death toll into context: there are 4500-5000 deaths a year in Sheffield, which means that approx 10% of all deaths can be linked to poor air quality. Death caused by poor air quality may well be the highest cause that can be linked to preventable deaths, mainly preventable respiratory and cardiovascular deaths, in Sheffield and, really, is a public health scandal. It’s also a fairness issue because most of the people affected don’t own a car but live in the pollution and it disproportionately affects the very young, the old and those with existing heart and lung conditions.
- The Director of Public Health has been assigned the role of the Council’s Air Quality Champion.
- The plan has much to say about walking and cycling and I think should be of interest to CycleSheffield.
3. What actions are proposed?
The report lists actions that it thinks it can take up to 2015 which should help reduce air pollution. Sheffield has an Air Quality Management Area, which tellingly is all of Sheffield except the area within the Peak District National Park and the city boundaries.
The action plan has specified seven actions:
- Feasibility study of a Low Emission Zone (LEZ)
- Develop infrastructure for refueling low emission vehicles (LEV)
- Promote smarter travel choices
- Improve engine performance of commercial diesel vehicles
- Mitigate the effect of the M1
- Develop policies to support better air quality
- Control industrial emissions
Action points 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 as they have little to say that directly relates to cycling. Action 1 is a feasibility study to see what boundaries there could be for an LEZ and what actions are needed. There will be initiatives with road haulage companies, bus companies and taxi licensing on improving engines. Action 2 is about increasing gas (LPG) fueling points electric vehicle charging points. This action will be dependent on successful bids for Government and European grants and also will need to be across the Sheffield City Region (SCR) not just in Sheffield city. Action 4 is voluntarily working with bus and haulage companies to update their vehicles or the engines in their vehicles. It is also about taxi engines and as SCC licenses the taxis it is one thing they can control by only licensing vehicles with ‘clean’ engines. Action 5 notes that there is very little SCC can do with the M1 other than work with and lobby Government via the DfT and the Highways Agency to ensure that the amount of vehicles and their speed is controlled to reduce emissions. Action 7 is about working with the Environment Agency and companies to ensure that when emission permits are granted, they are also enforced, and regulated sites are updated as and when needs be.
4. Action 3 Promote smarter travel choices. The actions proposed here are to get more people on public transport, encourage tele-working, get car share programmes set up, and get more people cycling and walking. Text in italics is a direct quote from the action plan.
“SCC will develop specific schemes to get employees to and from work and children to and from school such as Bike It, which promotes cycling through schools “
- The Bike It initiative is funded by Sustrans and I think has had an impact on 50 schools so far and we are not sure what the success and monitoring criteria are. I have heard that if a student cycles to school once a week then that is a ‘tick’. We can ask questions about the uptake and impact of Bike It at the next Cycle Forum.
- What the AQAP doesn’t mention or consider is the Bikeability programme that has been running in Sheffield schools since, I think, 2007. Over the last seven school years there must be approximately 10,000 students who, in their last two years of primary school, have attained Bikeability level 2 (basic standard to be out cycling on roads). The first cohort would have left secondary school by now. I guess that many of these students did not cycle to their secondary schools and hardly cycle on the road now. We know that most of the staff do not cycle and the cycle parking provision across all schools is very patchy. The majority of parents do not want their children to cycle to school as they perceive it as hazardous. This is a specific scheme but we need to ask what SCC is doing to monitor and evaluate its long term impact wrt to trained students carrying on cycling for transport or leisure?
- As for employees: Sheffield Council has promoted Cycle to Work schemes but the irony is that it has never introduced one for its own employees. Despite many of the officers in positions of influence cycling to work themselves, the Council has spent years kicking this idea around the halls of bureaucracy and never doing it themselves. The Council should be leading the way; it may be hypocritical to recommend actions you cannot or will not do yourself. So we should re-iterate our request; when is SCC to introduce a Cycle to Work scheme for its own employees?
- Sheffield has a CycleBoost programme as well. This is targeted on North East Sheffield and designed to get adults cycling for transport and wellbeing. It has an extensive programme of cycle loans, cycle training, maintenance classes and a bike kitchen. Its all good and started in 2013. It’s funded from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund money and is part of the South Yorkshire In Motion! project. Never heard of this? No neither had I until I happened to pick up a leaflet on it. I think we need to ask CycleBoost to talk about its work at the next Cycle Forum and for SCC to talk about In Motion wrt to uptake of the various strands, coordination across South Yorkshire and what impact it has had so far, especially in Sheffield.
5. Action point 3 states, “The first principles of reducing the need to travel by car would be to ensure that all destinations are accessible to public transport, walking and cycling to ensure the provision of alternatives to the car.” , and action point 6 Develop policies to support states, “We will integrate policies for spatial and transport planning to reduce travel demand and open up possibilities for walking and cycling.”
- I link these two points because I think it is stating that urban spaces or places where we work, rest, play and shop must be planned and developed, or redeveloped, with the needs of transport other than the car put first. To do this no space should be redeveloped unless transport designers are involved and no transport scheme should be developed unless urban space designers are involved, hence the proposed integration of spatial and transport planning. This could be interpreted as all designing should be done according to the hierarchy of road users, eg in order of consideration; able and disabled pedestrians, cyclists, public transport, commercial vehicles, private vehicles. Its worth asking if this is what AQAP means? And of course the other question, is when is SCC to introduce cycle audits? We still seem to be no closer to getting them as part of highway planning procedure, although it was agreed nine months ago it would take place.
- If SCC gets its act together to do then that would be a great improvement as long as politicians and officers hold their nerve. When presenting AQAP to Cabinet Simon Green, Executive Director, Place stated, “….attempting to reduce emissions from traffic by using some form of demand management measure. However, this may still not deliver the required air quality targets and EU limit values by 2015 and would also have a negative impact on Sheffield’s economy, working against the wider aims of the Corporate Plan.” July 2012 papers presented to Cabinet. What you can’t find is exactly what this negative impact is or would be and it is not identified in SCC’s Corporate Plan 2011-2014
- I think this blanket excuse of harming the economy must be resisted; the first question to ask is, “What is the negative economic cost of 500 preventable deaths caused by air quality per annum?” And this is a legitimate question; the DfT’s own evaluation of Sheffield’s AQAP states, “The Council is encouraged to consider the wider socio-economic impacts of the various measures, for instance encouraging cycling and walking has a health benefit beyond that of the expected air quality improvements, and it would be useful to consider this within the report.” Defra response to SCC AQAP 2015 Sep 2012. So I think we should ask at Cycle Forum what is the negative and positive economic impact of implementing AQAP 2015 and how do they compare?
Action point 6 goes on to say, “This (action) includes developing Park and Ride schemes, journey planning tools, cycle paths, cycle storage and better footpaths, subject to a successful funding bid. We will also be investing in public transport, such as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Northern Route and support the implementation of the Government-led 2 year Tram-Train pilot scheme to promote innovation in sustainable travel, improve reliability and increase modal shift from cars to tram.”
- I think the important points here are
- to raise the issue of quality and coherence of cycle routes (not just paths) and to point out that putting in more does not necessarily make things better.
- to enquire how the BRT is to impact upon cycling, e.g. along Attercliffe Rd and using the 5WW around Meadowhall
- to note that the tram-train national pilot has vetoed carriage of bicycles despite the Council’s view and the Council’s need to develop a coherent view across the SCR on this issue. This decision should be noted for when franchises are up for tender again.
- Action 6, Develop policies to support better air quality, also states that,
- a. “We will introduce and enforce a planning policy to ensure that for significant developments predictable resulting loss of air quality would be appropriately mitigated. We will expect all new developments to implement or support actions that make a positive contribution to improving air quality, such as by reducing the demand for fuel consumption.
- The proposed IKEA is a substantial development that has more or less ignored access for walkers or cyclists although Meadowhall must be one of the best linked places via public transport and could be for cycling. Note this plan has been here since 2012 but seems to have given little backbone to Sheffield councillors and officers. Is it negative economic impact to resist the wishes of developers?
Is AQAP worth pursuing?
It is of course linked to 20s Plenty, Living Streets and so on, so Richard is going to have a look at it from the Active Travel angle too.
I think It ‘fits’ with the demands we may make with Space for Cycling so we can use it as evidence/argument for our case
AND it also gives us an argument to take to community associations and TARAs to help build possible alliances for the 2014 and 2015 elections
Whether we make We Want Good Air Quality action an election demand is a moot point; I think we are pushing at an open door on that BUT we need to demand sound strategies for action on cycling and walking to ensure good air quality
For me actions like “We will maintain cycle training” don’t go far enough! (on the realisation that if you don’t ask you won’t get and if you do ask it is highly likely you won’t get – but, hey! that’s campaigning for you)
Addendum: How is this all led and managed?
The plan has a steering group and a working group and a different officer championing each of the above actions in each group!
14 people, 11 of them SCC officers, are members of the steering group. 16 people, 11 of them SCC officers, are members of the working group. Two officers are both members of the steering group and the working group and those who are not officers are from agencies such as SYPTE, HA.
The working group should have a member of the local community assigned to each of the specific actions but currently there are no nominees and this plan will be finished in 2015. That should be seven local community representatives in all making the working group a total of 23 members.
Its complicated but so is managing air quality. However it may not be akin to a “lean environmental strategy team” as extolled on p20 of SCC’s Corporate Plan 2011-2014
The current documentation is out of date by the way as some people like Les Sturch have left SCC and the Government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund no longer exists.
The other problem is that it will be very difficult to monitor and evaluate progress. The Defra evaluation states, “ We note that the Plan includes a section on how progress will be monitored, and states that monitoring will be done by integrating the Plan into the Council’s performance management framework. This is welcomed, however it would be useful for the Council to define the indicators that will be used to evaluate progress with implementation of each measure, and to include the indicators and targets explicitly within the descriptions of each of the measures. “
I couldn’t find a modus operandi for these groups, there are chairs and so on but I can’t find minutes, attendance so we can ask about that too.