To mark Clean Air Day today, Oxfordshire County Council has launched its strategy to tackle poor air quality – the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK.
Long-term exposure to air pollution is attributable for an estimated 38,000 deaths per year in England, according to the Chief Medical Officer’s 2022 annual report . In Oxfordshire in 2021, it was estimated that air pollution’s effect on mortality was equivalent to 320 early deaths.
Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Air quality has been improving across Oxfordshire in recent decades. However, levels remain above the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards in many places. It is critical that we work to improve air quality to deliver the council’s priorities, particularly prioritising the health and wellbeing of residents.
“We want to do everything within our power to clean up the air in Oxfordshire. Our vision is to accelerate the improvement in Oxfordshire’s air quality to reduce the health and environmental impacts of dirty air, so ensuring that all residents can breathe safely.
“By burning less fuel through changing how we travel, heat our homes and the things we buy, we can create environments that are better for our mental wellbeing, health, nature and our climate too.”
The average person will take more than 600 million breaths in their lifetime. People who breathe polluted air are more likely to develop long term lung and heart disease as well as mental health and brain conditions such as dementia.
The air quality strategy will prioritise three approaches:
- reducing emissions of outdoor and indoor air pollution
- extending the distance from pollution sources
- protecting those people most at risk.
Councillor Michael O’Connor, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health and Inequalities, said: “There is no safe level of air pollution according to the WHO. It damages our health at any level and its effects are often lethal: up to 40,000 deaths are attributable to air pollution in the UK every year.
“Although air pollution affects all of us, the burden doesn’t fall evenly. Children, older people, and those with health conditions are more likely to be harmed by it. Areas that are less well-off are often home to higher levels of pollution and those living in them suffer more severely from its health impacts.
“This document is a big leap forward. The next step is to create a strategy that brings together partners across the county behind the common goal of reducing pollution. Together, we will create healthy lives for all.”
The strategy is supported by a route map that sets out what work the council is already doing and the actions it will take in the short-term. The actions are all related to functions directly within the council’s control.
The air quality strategy will help to build on and be supported by the council’s climate action framework. Air quality and climate action are closely linked due to the relationship between fossil fuels and air pollution.
Transport is also a key driver of air pollution and so delivery of the council’s local transport and connectivity plan – which includes targets to reduce car journeys by a third by 2040 and increase the number of cycling trips from 600,000 to one million by 2031 – will be key to improving air quality.
Also vital to the success of the strategy will be partnership work with Oxfordshire’s district and city councils to support their efforts to monitor and improve air quality in hot spots.
Councillor Anna Railton, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford and Climate Justice at Oxford City Council, said: “We welcome Oxfordshire County Council’s new strategy to address pollution across the county. There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ level of air pollution, and we all need to take action today. Oxford City Council will work closely with the county council to support their vision, working alongside our own existing citywide action plan and targets.
“Air pollution affects everyone, though not equally, and it is everyone’s responsibility to help tackle it. Only by working together at every level can we ensure that everyone is able to breathe clean air.”
West Oxfordshire District Council’s Executive Member for Environment, Councillor Lidia Arciszewska, said: “Air quality in West Oxfordshire is generally good, with the vast majority of the district complying with the UK government objectives. However, in both Witney and Chipping Norton, the concentrations of nitrogen dioxide have exceeded the government objectives and, as a consequence, air quality management areas have been declared in both towns.
“It is a priority for us to create better environments, which enable a good quality of life for communities, and we are asking residents to give us their views by taking part in an air quality survey to help us to understand if our approach to managing of air quality is on the right track. The survey will run until 14 July.”
Councillor Andrew McHugh, Cherwell District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Cleaner and Greener Communities, said: “The health risks of poor air quality should not be underestimated. We are responsible for monitoring air pollution in north Oxfordshire but it’s only right that local authorities should work together to agree objectives and deliver against them for our residents.
“The announcement of a countywide strategy is a welcome one and one which we will be working to support.”
South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have devised a joint Air Quality Action Plan for the two districts and have launched a survey to get residents’ views, which opens on 15 June.
Councillor Mark Coleman, Vale of White Horse District Council Cabinet Member for Environmental Services and Waste, said: “Air pollution causes so many health issues, which is why both councils have made improving air quality a corporate priority.”
Councillor Sue Cooper, South Oxfordshire District Council Cabinet Member for the Environment, said: “We now have a new joint air quality action plan aiming to tackle air pollution and this includes proposals promoting more active travel, increased use of public transport and of low emission vehicles. We look forward to hearing what residents think of the proposals.”