Opinion: How we can engage more with local air quality projects

Nick Ruxton-Boyle, Director of Environment at Marston Holdings, considers how we can engage more with air quality projects in our local area and how we could make air quality data easier to access. 

Last week, and this, is back to school for many of us and most of us will see an impact on our journeys. The roads will be slightly busier, 15% I often quote at morning peak, but cannot recall the reference study to support this figure. And it is this access to data to support behaviour change that forms a key thread through this blog.

I am lucky enough to be able to walk to and from school, and it is one of the favourite parts of my day. We chat about what we can see on the journey, pick flowers for the teacher, and generally have a laugh.

Last year I changed my route to school to spend less time on a busy A road. The route is slightly longer (about 8 minutes) and bumpier (through a local park) but overwhelmingly worthwhile based on my guestimated decrease in pollution exposure.

When I got close to the school, I was pleased to see that the road outside was closed to traffic. My first thought was that of elation that the council had introduced a school street over the summer. A school street is a temporary closure, at the start and end of the day, to improve pupil safety and health.

My second thought was that of surprise that I wasn’t aware of the scheme and didn’t have an opportunity to be part of the design. School streets can be delivered through temporary physical barriers or virtual closures enforced by cameras.

Back to School chalk

The traffic around the school was much quieter than normal and I was impressed that it has had such a drastic impact so soon.

And my final thought was of disappointment when I discovered it was gas works and that the road would be re-opened in a matter of weeks.

This all got me thinking about my local council and I decided to do some research on local transport plans and air quality projects. As a unitary authority it was relatively simple to find the pages on their website, I must however admit that I have been working for and with councils for over 20 years and kind of know where to look.

Despite there being no immediate plans for the area around my school, or my route to school, the projects listed were clear and easy to understand. I then found my way onto their air quality pages and had some fun exploring the recent and historic pollution data. The content was very complex, scientific and set out according to the requirements set by the government and industry.

Despite the odd blip, the local air quality is very good, and has been on an improving trajectory over the last few years. If you have some free time over the next few weeks, I suggest you go onto your local council’s website and have a look. You don’t need to have a degree in biochemistry to understand it all, but it helps.

This does bring me onto my main point on public information on air quality. Through some of my work I get to talk to a lot of different stakeholders on air quality. Local residents, businesses, council officers, politicians and students of all ages. Almost all of them have an interest in air quality, and the implications of air pollution, and want to know more and in particular how they can reduce their own emissions and make changes to their lifestyle to reduce their exposure.

With all the ways in which we can now access and digest digital data, local data, and real time data, I wonder if there is a way in which we can simplify air quality reporting and messaging and provide people with options as to how they can make a difference to their own environments and families health. I’d love to hear from some of the AQ News readers about what a new modern, digital air quality information service should look like?

Photo by Deleece Cook


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