Consultation on stricter air quality targets for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire

Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council would like people to let them know what they think of a new programme they are drawing up to improve air quality. It’s called the Greater Cambridge Air Quality Strategy 2024-2029 and includes an action plan outlining measures the Councils are intending to take to reduce air pollution. They are inviting the public to submit comments by filling out a survey. The deadline is Monday 19 February.

Share your views before the consultation closes on 19 February 2024 at https://engage.cambridge.gov.uk/en-GB/projects/air-quality-strategy

For the first time, the two councils are proposing to adopt stricter air quality standards than those required under UK law. Following the lead of other UK councils, such as Hackney and Lambeth, their ambition is to reduce pollutants to the levels set out in World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines. This is because it is now widely recognised that there is no safe level of air pollution. Air quality in Greater Cambridge (Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire combined) currently meets UK standards on the whole, but levels of key pollutants are currently higher than WHO guideline levels. 

The Councils are not aiming to meet WHO guideline levels during the lifetime of the Strategy. Instead they have set interim targets for 2029, with the aim of reducing to WHO guideline levels in the longer term. In contrast, Hackney and Lambeth are targeting reductions to WHO guideline levels by 2030. 

What does Cambridgeshire Sustainable Travel Alliance think?

Cambridgeshire Sustainable Travel Alliance strongly supports the adoption of the stricter WHO guideline level standards for the main air pollutants, as this will motivate further work to clean up the air we breathe and improve the health of those who live and work in the area. Air pollution contributes to the premature deaths of tens of thousands of people in the UK every year and increases the burden on the NHS and the social care system. It damages the lungs and the heart, causing or contributing to asthma, stroke, coronary heart disease and lung cancer, and there is also emerging evidence it is linked to dementia, low birth weight and type 2 diabetes. Those who are younger and older are particularly at risk.

What can you do to help improve air quality?

According to the Strategy, motor vehicles are the main source of air pollution in the parts of Greater Cambridge where most people live. Actions to make transport more sustainable are therefore important to improve air quality and we think more ambitious plans to improve sustainable transport in the region are required. We’d encourage you to read the Greater Cambridge Air Quality Strategy and fill in the survey. Consider making some of the following points in your response:

Greater Cambridge Air Quality Strategy

  • The adoption of the stricter WHO guidelines level targets on air quality is warmly welcomed. The Councils should indicate when they aim to meet WHO guideline level targets, however, as this is not specified currently. Lambeth and Hackney are targeting WHO guideline levels by 2030.
  • The Councils should be more specific about the actions that will be required to reduce air pollutants to the desired levels. Currently many of the ‘actions’ in the action plan are proposals or reviews, rather than concrete plans to reduce air pollution.

Air Quality Action Plan: Key Priority 2: Infrastructure Improvements

  • A recent study showed that the three most effective measures to reduce cars in cities were road charging, removing car parking spaces and restricted motor traffic zones. These combine a ‘push’ restricting motor vehicles with a ‘pull’ encouraging sustainable travel. The Action Plan would be more effective if it included more ‘push’ measures, in particular road charging and restricted motor traffic zones. 
  • More measures to give buses priority over cars, vans and lorries (e.g. bus gates and bus lanes) are essential to speed up bus travel and improve reliability. The Action Plan should be more ambitious in this area.   
  • The Action Plan should do more to protect the young and the old from toxic air, for example through widespread implementation of school streets and restricted traffic zones around schools and care homes.

Air Quality Action Plan: Key Priority 3: Community Engagement, Promotion and Research and Key Priority 4: Monitoring

  • The Action Plan should include community-led monitoring of air quality, alongside Council-led monitoring. This would increase the data available and further involve communities in efforts to improve air quality.