Air quality

Air Quality Management Area 2

In December 2020, our second Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) was declared on a short section of the A127 Victoria Avenue, close to the junctions with East Street, West Street, Priory Crescent and Fairfax Drive. You can email a request for a copy of the plan.

The declaration of the AQMA follows a detailed assessment of nitrogen dioxide levels which exceed the national air quality goal. The 'air quality aim' for nitrogen dioxide is an annual mean of 40µgm.

We have reviewed our Air Quality Action Plan to take into consideration this second AQMA.

What is an AQMA?

An AQMA is declared where the national 'air quality objective' for a specific pollutant such as nitrogen dioxide is exceeded. The air quality objectives are set by national government and/or the European Commission.

Following a detailed assessment of the air quality, there has been a reported exceedance for nitrogen dioxide at a small area of Victoria Avenue, adjacent to the junctions with Priory Crescent, East Street and West Street. The level measured was 51µgm-3.

The 'air quality objective' for nitrogen dioxide is an Annual mean of 40µgm-3. However, the boundary of the AQMA has been extended to include areas where the air quality is actually 36µgm-3 (lower than the national 'air quality objective') and where a property is only partially within that boundary, it is still included within the AQMA.

Are there other AQMA's in Southend-on-Sea?

Yes, we declared our first AQMA in November 2016 at a stretch of the A127 Hobleythick Lane, and Rochford Road (The Bell Junction). Also, there are over 700 AQMA's declared in the UK, with 90% of these related to traffic emissions. In Essex, there are AQMA's in Rayleigh town centre, Chelmsford, Epping Forest, Brentwood, Uttlesford and Thurrock.

Traffic hot-spots where air quality is not as good as it could be are found in most large towns and cities. Nationally, many local authorities have declared at least one Air Quality Management Area. Some, such as the London Boroughs, have declared their whole boroughs as Air Quality Management Areas.

What are the implications of an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA)?

An AQMA means that, within that area, the levels of a certain pollutant are above those required by legislation for health reasons. Any declaration, in summary, means that further monitoring of that pollutant has to be undertaken and a plan has to be put in place to improve the air quality within it. Therefore the implications of an AQMA are all to encourage positive steps.

What are we doing about this?

Where an AQMA is declared, the local authority must develop an action plan to improve air quality, in liaison with local residents and businesses within 12 months of the declaration.

We adopted our first Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) and Low Emission Strategy in June 2018.

An internal steering group has been set up to implement the plan and review it annually. The plan includes measures in relation to local transport, highways, land use and planning, environmental health and public health. See link.

We have also carried out a number of junction improvements such as the A127 Kent Elms scheme, and across the city to reduce congestion, which ultimately help to improve air quality.

Work at The Bell junction should commence in 2020 and it is expected that this work, along with other measures should contribute to improving local air quality.

What are we doing about air quality in general?

Air quality issues undoubtedly have an impact on public health, and we continue to keep working to reduce levels of air pollution not just via its adopted Air Quality Action Plan (2018) and the recently completed Low Emission Strategy, but other corporate policies and strategies.

Air quality levels have improved considerably in the UK in recent decades due to new cleaner technology and tighter environmental legislation, which have reduced emissions from industry and motor vehicles for example, and in Southend-on-Sea we are committed to meeting standards. This is in a large part due to our pro-active approach to this issue.

Air quality levels are directly linked to human activity so whilst we have a number of policies and a real commitment to encourage a shift from motorised transport to walking and cycling, there is also the need for individuals and employers to consider how they and their employees travel to work for example. We will continue to work with businesses and local people to help achieve this.

We actively encourage walking and cycling and we have an extensive cycle path network across the city. Campaigns like Ideas in Motion, and car sharing schemes for example would also be expected to reduce total vehicle emissions, including particulate pollution, with the added health benefits from increased physical activity through walking and cycling.

We are constantly monitoring air pollution and we use this information to help inform road transport improvements and major infrastructure projects. Air Quality is also an important consideration in other areas of our work including the Local Transport Plan and the Low Carbon Strategy which signals our intent in a number of areas, including an aspiration to be a low carbon city.

What do we do to monitor the problem?

There is an automatic monitoring station at Chalkwell Park which monitors pollution in real time. The monitor is owned and managed by DEFRA. We also use monitoring diffusion tubes to obtain levels in areas identified as having high levels of traffic. This data and information supplied by transportation services in relation to traffic is used to undertake an assessment of nitrogen dioxide within these areas.

Why are there air quality issues in this location?

Whilst we have a number of policies and projects to reduce congestion and a commitment to encourage a shift from motorised transport to walking and cycling, air quality levels are directly linked to human activity and generally motor vehicles, particularly in this area.

Whilst we must show leadership for the area, there is also the need for individuals and employers to consider how they and their employees travel to work for example.

Every motorist who uses this junction is contributing to the nitrogen dioxide levels in this area.

I suffer from asthma. How will this affect me?

Certain sensitive individuals who are more susceptible to air pollution due to existing respiratory conditions may feel the effects either more acutely or at lower levels. These individuals include those who suffer from heart disease, asthma and bronchitis, especially in young children and the elderly. The Health Protection Agency has advised that if you are in this risk category it is advisable to avoid prolonged exposure during periods of peak traffic, or pollution episodes during hot weather.

Will this increase my chance of suffering from asthma?

For most people, pollution levels in the UK are unlikely to cause any serious health effects. During particularly severe pollution episodes, short terms effects such as coughing and eye irritation may be triggered. The levels measured within the AQMA however are not considered as 'severe', and the levels are likely to go unnoticed by most people.

Is it safe to allow my children to play in the garden?

Yes it is. Although there are residential properties within the specific area of the AQMA, the highest levels recorded are only very close to the main road and on the main road itself where traffic is sometimes queued. These levels reduce substantially as you move away from the road, and also depending on the time of day e.g. during “rush hour” levels will be at their highest. The time of year also affects potential pollution levels e.g. during the summer months levels are generally lower because of the diluting effect of the warm earth surface which causes the air to move up, a phenomenon known as “vertical mixing”.

What are the implications for property values?

The designation of an AQMA is a legislative requirement and is not an optional process. AQMAs are not subject to land searches and many Councils have declared AQMAs and to the best of our knowledge there have been no reported effects on property values.

I work in the area, how will this affect my health?

The criteria used to assess the levels of nitrogen dioxide are based on a long term exposure limit of where members of the public might be regularly exposed for long periods, e.g. residential properties, schools, hospitals. It is thought that the workplace is not considered as long term exposure. Research undertaken by DEFRA concluded that exceedences of the shorter term objectives were considered unlikely where the annual mean is below 60μg/m3.. Levels of nitrogen dioxide within the AQMA are below this.

Contact Environmental Health

Telephone: 01702 215005

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