Southampton City Council has started a two month consultation period to gather views from across the city on future plans to improve air quality in the city.
The government has mandated that 28 cities and local authorities take action to reduce harmful levels of nitrogen dioxide, an emission produced largely by road transport. Even with current initiatives to decrease car use across the city, such as the My Journey scheme to encourage cycling, Southampton isn’t expected to meet the 2020 target set by the European Union.
Southampton residents will now have until 13th September to complete an online questionnaire giving their views on proposals to reduce nitrogen dioxide across the city. The measures favoured by the Council include introducing a congestion charge on older models of buses, taxis and lorries, but don’t include cars at this stage. Alongside the charge, bus and taxi firms will be provided funding to upgrade their buses with cleaner engines and exhaust systems.
However, there will be no such similar fund for lorries and vans, meaning that small businesses could be disadvantaged. If vehicles are within the ‘Euro-6’ category, the cleanest and newest form of transport, they will be exempt from any charges, which could be as high as £100 for buses operating within the city.
The consultation will be carried out jointly with the New Forest District Council and the new schemes are expected to be put in place in October 2019 once ministerial approval has been granted.
Poor air quality is linked to 400,000 deaths a year across the UK due to the impact that high emissions have on the respiratory and circulatory system. Recent media attention has heightened public awareness of the need to improve air quality, such as the case of Ella Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old girl who died in 2013 as a result of illegal pollution levels near her South London home. Professor Stephen Holgate, leading expert in asthma and air pollution from University Hospital Southampton, concluded that pollution levels had been the cause of her death when giving evidence to support an inquest earlier this month.
Unlawful levels of air pollution contributed to the cause and seriousness of Ella’s asthma in a way that greatly compromised her quality of life and was causative of her fatal asthma attack.
Any legal action taken against the government for complicity in Ella’s death would be without precedent, and pave the way for future charges of involuntary manslaughter against local authorities.