Banbury Community Action Group

Clean air news

In our last news we sent out a reminder about Clean Air Day on 8 October. As it is such a major issue, we thought you might be interested in some additional info about air quality in Banbury. That’s what this newsletter is all about. We’ll be following it soon with a more general news update: in the meantime, read on…Are you one who is pretty careful about what kind of fuel you run yourself on? Do you make an effort to eat healthily (at least most / some of the time)? Lots of us do, with the thought that it’s good for our health. Isn’t it luxurious to be able to drink water from the mains and know that it is clean: would you drink polluted water? Obviously, not.But do you ever think about the quality of the air you breathe? 12–18 breaths per minute for the average adult, 24/7, each equalling around 7–8 litres. That’s something like 11,000 litres of air a day entering your lungs. A lot. What is in that air? Air pollution is the second biggest health threat after smoking. Polluted air hastens the deaths of around 50,000 people a year in the UK; hundreds of thousands of others suffer ill health as a result of air pollution. It’s alarming that among those age 30 or over, around 5.3% of deaths in Cherwell District are linked to man-made air pollution (it’s about the same as the national figure). The pollutants affect not just the health of people, but likewise cause catastrophic damage to the health of the environment.
In our area, it’s traffic pollution in particular that pulls down the quality of the air. The National Air Quality Strategy, published in 2000, sets out the policy framework for assessing and managing air quality, setting standards and Air Quality Objectives (AQOs).  Cherwell District Council, like all councils, has a duty to review and assess the quality of the air against these national AQOs. At locations where the air quality is found to be worse than required, they must designate an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA).Find out more about the national picture for AQMAs.It’s of concern that Banbury has two AQMAs – Hennef Way, and the town centre (the area between Southam Road and the Oxford Road including some of High Street). So, these are areas where the levels of Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have gone above the national objective annual mean of 40ug/m3. In Hennef Way, the levels are up in the 70s. Also, only NO2 levels are monitored by Cherwell – there are air quality objectives for six other pollutants, and these go untracked in our area.Designation of AQMAs leads to the need for an Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP). Hennef Way and Banbury town centre both have AQAPs, put together by the DC’s Public Protection Service. The main thrust of the plans is getting air quality recognised as a priority consideration in all parts of the local planning process. This keys in to Cherwell DC’s Local Plan, which gives the wider framework for air quality. The Local Plan, for example, has objectives for sustainable development which encourages alternatives to private car travel and promotes the use of public transport and travel by bicycle or on foot.Find out more from Cherwell DCPhoto by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash
What can we do?How are the Action Plans doing? Despite some modest improvements, concentrations of NO2 in the two AQMAs continue to be obstinately high. As seen elsewhere, it is possible to bring the level of air pollution down: London has done it through levying charges on the most polluting vehicles, using low-emission buses on dirty routes, and improving the provision for cyclists. Perhaps we shouldn’t just leave the matter to those in government. Perhaps we should take some responsibility as a community for the air around us.What can we do? Well, the stats show the main culprits for pollution in the Banbury area to be cars (particularly diesel cars for NO2) with light goods vehicles and heavy goods vehicles also playing a part. Buses only contribute a small amount. So, here’s two of the basics to think about:Use less generated energy travelling – cut car miles, even if you’ve gone electric; whenever you can, use your own energy: walk or cycle.Switch off your engine when parked or in stationary traffic – cut idling.Maybe as members and supporters of Banbury CAG, we should go further and think of doing more.  After all, Clean Air is fundamental to two things:The physical health of our communities, and particularly the young, the old and many of those with existing health conditionsANDThe health of our planet.One of the District’s five air quality key priorities is: “raising awareness of poor air quality and encouraging improvement actions by vehicle users and fleet managers”. Their 2020 Local AQM Annual Status Report announces that the priority for the coming year is to use the increased public awareness of air quality issues springing from Lockdown, to promote active travel and reduced personal car use, through communications campaigns. That’s got to be good news because, ultimately, it’s the choices and actions of each and every one of us that add up to the whole. Can BCAG help them get the message out in Banbury?The array of excellent speakers at the Clean Air Day virtual conference run by Oxfordshire Friends of the Earth, brought a wealth of ideas and information to the table. The speakers included a headteacher from an Oxfordshire primary school who explained how it was possible to make clean air and the climate emergency, core subjects throughout the school day. Educating children about environmental issues had huge knock-on effects in increasing the awareness of the wider community. Perhaps we could work across the town as facilitators, developing a framework that offers the encouragement, knowledge and support needed to ensure all Banbury schools are taking a similar proactive approach. What do you think?Perhaps we could pool resources and collective community-generated energy to work towards making Banbury a more welcoming and safer town for cyclists. Do you think that’s something we should be taking steps towards? The Status Report comments that “the topography in Banbury is not ideal for cycling or walking” and that “there are limitations to the effectiveness of these [communications] campaigns unless the cost and convenience is conducive to making the desired changes to travel habits”. Do you agree with either statement?Let us know what you think via via email or social media.Photo by Franco Duarte on Unsplash
Find out moreTo find out what information is available in the UK about air quality, including the Daily Air Quality Index, try:  A Guide to UK Air Pollution Information Resources (PDF 541 KB).A map showing detailed data on air quality and how it is monitored across the county.A good place for a wealth of further advice and information is the national clean air day website, with toolkits to download.Photo by Jonas Weckschmied on Unsplash