Levels of air pollution in Leeds have not returned to pre-pandemic levels and continue their long-term decline as a result of citywide action, new air quality data published by Leeds City Council on Clean Air Day confirms.
The council says changing travel behaviours, a faster than average transition to plug-in vehicles, and major highways improvements are all likely to have contributed to the city’s healthier air.
However it says that, despite the recent improvements, air pollution is still linked to an estimated 54 of every 1000 deaths in Leeds.
The new data covering 2021 provides the most recent comprehensive overview of air quality in Leeds available, due to a rigorous verification process. 2022 data will be completed and published later this year.
Leeds City Council approved new targets to improve air quality further and faster than required by national government in 2021 as part of a wide-ranging strategy to reduce air pollution from transport, homes, industry, and agriculture.
Six years ago, Leeds was one of several cities directed by the UK Government to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone to tackle illegal levels of pollution. The policy—combined with almost £8 million of financial support given to businesses—led to an accelerated take up of cleaner vehicles over a four-year period.
The plans to introduce charges in Leeds were ultimately discontinued after the majority of the city’s taxis, buses, coaches, HGVs, and private hire vehicles switched to less polluting models, leading to significant air quality improvements.
Only a small number of air quality monitors in the city centre and near Kirkstall Road measured pollution levels (NO2) higher than permitted by national regulations in 2021 across the entire Leeds district. All but one of these locations are places where people are unlikely to dwell, limiting the health risks. Air quality at many of these locations is expected to improve following current or planned highways works.
Each of the city’s six designated Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs)—neighbourhoods previously identified as being unlikely to meet clean air standards—are now compliant with national regulations and continue to improve.
As a result, Leeds City Council has announced today that it plans to formally revoke five of the six AQMA designations this year. The council will keep the AQMA at Pool-in-Wharfedale under review for at least another year to be sure that recent improvements are permanent.
(Graphic – Leeds City Council)