In 2014, nine English towns and cities, including Sheffield, were named by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for breaching safety guidelines for air pollution, especially particulate matter (PMs).
The cause? A combination of road transport, domestic and commercial heating systems and some industries.
In Sheffield, the pollutants of most concern are nitrogen dioxide and fine dust particulates, the principal source of which is road transport.
There are eight automatic air monitoring stations, measuring a variety of pollutants in the city and 160 locations across Sheffield where just nitrogen dioxide levels are monitored.
There is a ‘strong correlation’ between hospital admissions for circulatory and heart diseases and average levels of pollution. There might be up to 500 premature deaths each year caused by air pollution.
Pollution from the M1 and the busy roads in Tinsley, have required local schools to be re-sited. Potential road congestion and pollution issues caused the government’s Highways Agency to lodge initial objections to IKEa’s development . There has also been a continuing conflict between the current government’s M1 expansion plan and the need to cut traffic pollution in the area.
Concerns about Sheffield’s air quality go back over 400 years, but dramatic improvements were made between 1959 and 1972 when smokeless zones were established across the city. Residents got a grant to replace their coal fires with gas.
Most under-50s have no memory of the dreadful, choking smogs we used to experience. Today’s pollutants are nearly invisible. Today’s challenge is to make as big a breakthrough on traffic pollution as the city’s leaders made on smog 50 years ago.
If all buses and taxis in the city were low emission, that would cut nitrogen dioxide (NO2) gas by about 20 per cent, two-thirds of the way towards the required 30 per cent reduction.
The Government is already signalling changes to halt diesel incentives.
We need to go further and faster with a combination of:
n Tightening of emissions standards for all vehicles
n A plan to phase out diesel taxis, PHVs, buses and public sector vehicles (including contractors and utilities)
n Increasing vehicle excise duty (VED) on diesel vehicles and encouraging electric and hydrogen vehicles
n We need to consider a scrappage scheme with payments to help replace older vehicles with newer ones
n Encouraging and making it safer to walk and cycle.