We were asked by the Medway Messenger in early December to comment on a report that Chatham supposedly had the lowest air pollution in the country! And also to comment on the NICE guidelines on improving air quality. Here are our comments:
While it is interesting to hear that Chatham has been reported to top a list for lowest pollution levels, it does not reflect our understanding of the situation on the ground. We assume that ‘Chatham’ has been used as that is where the Defra monitoring site is, but we think the Medway Towns as a whole need to be considered.
Figures provided by ONS  show that Medway did indeed have lower than average C02 levels of 4.2 per capita overall in 2013, though that was by no means the lowest, Croydon for instance was recorded as 3.9 per capita.
A per capita measurement does allow comparison between towns with differing population levels but much caution is needed. Areas with thriving industrial and commercial centres demonstrate much higher CO2 levels, so a low score could be due to a struggling local economy rather than be a result of successful environmental strategies. It is also possible that the average is skewed by extremely high levels of CO2 in industrial areas. Additionally, fuel poverty could contribute to lower domestic consumption, reducing CO2 levels.
This list should not be used to encourage businesses to relocate to Medway while disregarding the overall need for a reduction in the UK’s CO2 emissions. CO2 doesn’t recognise government boundaries whether local or national. The impact on climate change will be the same wherever the business is located.
It is also important to remember that CO2 emissions do not represent the whole picture when it comes to air pollution. Medway continues to exceed EU levels for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which has been identified as having various significant adverse health effects, particularly on the respiratory system. This is predominantly caused by transport, in particular heavy goods vehicles, buses and congested traffic.
There is an acknowledged problem with NO2 levels at various sites in the Medway Towns. In their ‘Air Quality Action Plan 2015’, Medway Council admitted that air quality monitoring and modelling had indicated that the Government’s air quality objectives for Nitrogen Dioxide were not met. This means that many properties in Chatham, Gillingham and elsewhere are directly affected by poor air quality. People in Medway living with such air pollution issues on a daily basis would surely be surprised by the area’s ranking on this list.
NICE Guidelines on air pollution
Medway Green Party welcomes the NICE consultation on draft guidance for tackling road traffic-related air pollution.
Poor air quality is a real problem in parts of the Medway Towns and people are dying early because of it. We are therefore pleased to see NICE advocating action on this issue.
Their call for improvements to walking and cycling infrastructure is good as these methods of travel should be given a higher priority than at present. People should be able to regard walking and cycling as safe, convenient and pleasant choices for local journeys.
However we do notice the lack of recommendations for public transport. In order to improve the quality of life for many people in Medway we must reinvigorate our public transport systems across both urban and rural areas. We need to reduce the amount of traffic on the roads and integrated, affordable and reliable public transport will help achieve that.
We hope that NICE will include recommendations for public transport in their final report. We do recognise that improvements to infrastructure are expensive, so national Government should commit to providing adequate funding for local councils to implement the guidance.