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Tackling air quality

Air quality is a term used to describe how polluted the air we breathe is. Pollutants in the air may be hazardous to people’s health. Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades but there are still unacceptable levels of air pollution in many towns and cities in the UK.

Causes of air pollution

Air pollution is caused by many factors but by far the largest contributor is road transport, with diesel fuel the biggest source of pollution in many towns and cities across the UK. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and tiny invisible particles from exhaust fumes, tyres and brakes are present in the air we breathe, with some areas having very high levels.

What’s air pollution doing to our health?

Across the country poor air quality is linked to around 40,000 early deaths a year, including hundreds across Gateshead, Newcastle and North Tyneside.

Evidence from the World Health Organisation shows it’s particularly dangerous to the health of the very young and very old, as well as people who are already living with long-term health conditions like asthma.

There’s no safe level of exposure to air pollution, the effects of which build up over time. Air pollution is linked with cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. We are learning more about the impact on our health of this invisible pollutant all the time.

New research suggests that people who live in areas where there are high levels of pollution may be more at risk of developing dementia.

Air quality across Newcastle, what’s it like?

Air quality across most of Newcastle is good. We have been monitoring NO2 and very small particulates (PM2.5) levels across the city for many years.  In some areas we have faced challenges with levels of pollution being higher than legal limits. We have two Air Quality Management Areas – one in the city centre and one in Gosforth – where we have taken steps to try to improve air quality.

To tackle this we need to look at the wider area. Simply looking at local issues can just move the problem on to other areas, rather than solving it.

What we are doing to improve our air quality

We have worked with neighbouring councils in Gateshead and North Tyneside to develop proposals for tackling traffic-related air pollution.

The proposals include plans for a charging Clean Air Zone in Newcastle city centre. This would affect buses, coaches, HGVs, taxis and vans that do not meet required emissions standards.

In addition we are proposing changes to the road layout on the Tyne Bridge and Central Motorway, priority bus routes, and improved routes for walking and cycling. 

Our plans also include grants for the drivers of certain vehicles to help them upgrade to newer, cleaner models and exemptions for certain vehicles.

These proposals have been submitted to government and we are currently awaiting government approval and confirmation of funding. 

Government had issued us with a legal order to take action after data showed that air quality on a section of the A167 Tyne Bridge and Central Motorway and part of the A1058 Coast Road will still be above legal limits by 2021 unless action is taken. 

Extensive public consultation was carried out during 2019 and the feedback we received was extremely useful in helping to shape our final plans. You can find details of these plans and the public consultation at www.breathe-cleanair.com

We are already working on a number of initiatives to improve air quality. 

These include:

  • creating more efficient bus routes
  • improving cycle networks
  • improving our own fleet by introducing cleaner vehicles
  • upgrading traffic signals to keep traffic flowing and prevent congestion by co-ordinating movements through junctions
  • promoting initiatives such as car sharing and car clubs
  • providing more charging points for ultra low emissions vehicles.

How you can help

Everyone can help improve our air quality and our health.

One of the ways we can make the biggest difference is to reduce the number of car journeys we make.

Look for alternatives to driving, can you walk or cycle that short distance rather than take the car to work, school or to the shops.

Swapping just one or two car journeys a week for public transport, walking or cycling we would see a huge difference in air quality.

If you are thinking about changing your car, try to choose a model which has low or zero emissions.

If your vehicle is stationary for a long time switching off the engine will make a big difference – including to your own health, as emissions inside the car are higher than they are outside.

Employers can help by setting up car sharing schemes or initiatives which offer staff incentives to use public transport or cycle to work.

You can find out more facts about pollution and tips on how you can help to reduce it at www.cleanairday.org.uk 

Did you know?

Recent government data shows that air quality on a section of the A167 Tyne Bridge and Central Motorway and part of the A1058 Coast Road will still be above legal limits by 2021 unless action is taken.

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