Air Quality

Executive Summary

Information in this executive summary was correct as at (11/10/2017).

Air pollution is an important determinant of health. Poor air quality can cause both short and long-term effects on health. Each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution which plays a role in many of the major health challenges of our day. It has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia.

In the short-term, high pollution episodes can trigger increased admissions to hospital and contribute to the premature death of those people that are more vulnerable to daily changes in levels of air pollutants. Air pollution also has negative impacts on our environment, both in terms of direct effects of pollutants on vegetation, and indirectly through effects on the acid and nutrient status of soils and waters. (DEFRA, 2007). The health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution have a high cost to people who suffer from illness and premature death, to our health services and to business. In the UK, these costs add up to more than £20 billion every year (Royal College of Physicians, 2016)

Who’s at risk and why?

The whole population is at risk, but some groups feel the impacts more so than others. The elderly, very young, long term sick, disabled or living in low income households are affected to a greater degree. How severely a person or group is affected will depend on their exposure to and how well they are able to cope with and respond to their environment.

The level of need in the population

Local Authorities in the UK have a responsibility under Local Air Quality Management legislation to review air quality. Where people are likely to be exposed to levels of pollutants which exceed national objectives, an Air Quality Management Area should be declared and measures should be put in place to reduce emissions and exposure, and progress reported in a Local Air Quality Action Plan. There are currently 24 Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) in Surrey in relation to excessive nitrogen dioxide or both nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM 10). These are areas where levels of pollutants (usually NO2) have been found to exceed EU and national legal limits. The main source of these pollutants in Surrey is road traffic due to general congestion.

The Public Health Outcome Framework (PHOF) for England recognises the burden of ill health resulting from poor air quality. PHOF Indicator 3.01 reports that 4.6% of deaths in Surrey during 2015 were attributable to particulate air pollution (PM 2.5), (slightly lower than the South East region and England, 4.7%) (Public Health England, 2015).

Services in relation to need, unmet needs and service gaps

As transport authority, Surrey County Council seeks to address poor air quality in many of its bids to government for transport schemes e.g. sustainable transport packages which seek to promote walking, cycling and use of passenger transport.

A ‘toolbox’ of transport measures is included in the Surrey Air Quality Strategy, and these are the sorts of schemes/services we look to implement and deliver through various funding streams. One problem can be that approved schemes are not always delivered in AQMAs so while they may help improve air quality in general, they may not always address poor air quality in known AQMAs. This may be because funding streams dictate to some degree where money can be spent.

Each district/borough with declared AQMAs will have an Air Quality Action Plan, and these will often draw measures from the toolbox in the air quality strategy. SCC seeks to work in partnership with district and borough air quality officers and environmental health officers to address poor air quality through the Surrey Air Alliance, which has representatives from the District and Borough Councils, Surrey County Council Transport Team and Public Health Team.

What Works?

The transport measures listed in the toolbox within the Air Quality Strategies generally fall into one of two categories:

  • ‘Hard’ engineering measures
  • ‘Soft’ behaviour change measures, also known as demand management

Recommendations for Commissioning

  • Engage with schools in order to raise awareness of pupils and parents to inform them about air pollution, its impact on health and to promote behaviour change
  • Facilitate further work to encourage active travel initiatives
  • Work in partnership to facilitate the expansion of electric vehicle infrastructure and provision
  • Explore opportunities to work collaboratively on the delivery of hard transport measures, including multi agency funding bids
  • Encouragement and incentives for energy efficiency in homes and businesses
  • Embed considerations around air quality, active travel and behaviour change in planning policy and development
  • Work towards a multi-agency approach to reducing the impact of poor air quality via the ongoing development and delivery of the Surrey Air Alliance

Introduction

The European Environment Agency defines air pollution as “the presence of contaminant or pollutant substances in the air at a concentration that interferes with human health or welfare, or produces other harmful environmental effects.”

Through the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) system, local authorities are required to assess air quality in their area and designate Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA) if improvements are necessary. Where an AQMA is designated, local authorities are required to produce an Air Quality Action Plan describing the pollution reduction measures it will put in place (DEFRA, 2016).

In accordance with this system, county councils, such as Surrey, are required to proactively engage with district councils as soon as an air quality issue is identified (DEFRA, 2016). County councils are expected by the Secretary of State to ‘actively engage at all stages of review, assessment and action planning in relation to LAQM in its area’. ‘Early engagement will not only ensure a more effective Action Plan but should ensure that no unnecessary costs or resources are spent on collecting and sharing the necessary information or securing agreements too late in the process (DEFRA, 2016).

Local Transport Strategies have also been developed to take account of and provide a plan for addressing transport problems and opportunities in a geographical area. A Local Transport Strategy (LTS) has been produced for each district and borough in the county.

Air pollution is caused by a range of factors and people’s exposure will vary depending on the level of emissions, proximity to the source and dispersion of the pollutant. Sources include many components both natural and man-made. Particulate matter (measured by size of particle i.e. PM10 and PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide are considered to be the most dangerous, typically coming from man-made sources, such as traffic emissions. Air pollution is currently estimated to reduce the life expectancy of every person in the UK by an average of 7-8 months (DEFRA, 2007).

Air pollution can cause both short and long-term effects on health. Each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution which plays a role in many of the major health challenges of our day. It has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia.

In the short-term, high pollution episodes can trigger increased admissions to hospital and contribute to the premature death of those people that are more vulnerable to daily changes in levels of air pollutants. Air pollution also has negative impacts on our environment, both in terms of direct effects of pollutants on vegetation, and indirectly through effects on the acid and nutrient status of soils and waters. (DEFRA, 2007). The health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution have a high cost to people who suffer from illness and premature death, to our health services and to business. In the UK, these costs add up to more than £20 billion every year (Royal College of Physicians, 2016).

To view the level of air pollution in your local area, click here.

Who’s at risk and why?

  • The whole population is at risk, but some groups feel the impacts more so than others. The elderly, very young, long term sick, disabled or those living in low income households are affected to a greater degree. How severely a person or group is affected will depend on their exposure to and how well they are able to cope with and respond to their environment.
  • Our ageing population: the proportion of older people (65+) in Surrey is currently 18% but is expected to rise to 25% by 2037. By 2020 an expected rise of 13% in the over 65 population will continue to impact on health and social care costs; this will continue to be exacerbated by poor air quality in some areas.
  • There is growing evidence that air pollution may be associated with a much wider range of health conditions, including diabetes and neurological disease (such as changes linked to dementia). Long-term prenatal exposure to particulates is associated with poorer outcomes, including low birth weight and intrauterine growth retardation (Royal College of Physicians, 2016).
  • Risk can also be defined by an individual’s level of exposure to poor air quality, for example those who live and work in Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) may be exposed to higher levels of pollutants for longer periods of time.
  • It is estimated that in Surrey, the equivalent of 471 deaths per year can be attributed to long-term exposure to particulates. The term ‘equivalent’ is used since the real-world effect of particulates is to reduce the lifespan of many thousands of people by between 6 months and 10 years which when aggregated is equivalent to 471 people. (Public Health England, 2015).

The level of need in the population

Local Authorities in the UK have a responsibility under Local Air Quality Management legislation to review air quality. Where people are likely to be exposed to levels of pollutants which exceed national objectives, an Air Quality Management Area should be declared and measures should be put in place to reduce emissions and exposure, and progress reported in a Local Air Quality Action Plan.

High traffic volumes and stop start driving conditions resulting from congestion can lead to higher than acceptable roadside pollutant concentrations, hence causing greater risks to pedestrians and adjacent residential properties.

In two tier local authority areas such as Surrey, it is the borough and district councils who monitor air quality in their areas, declare AQMAs and prepare the action plans. Certain obligations are also placed on the relevant county council. There are currently 25 Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) in Surrey in relation to excessive nitrogen dioxide or both nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM 10). These are areas where levels of pollutants (usually NO2) have been found to exceed EU and national legal limits. The main source of these pollutants in Surrey is road traffic due to general congestion, through traffic on the motorway network (M25/M23/M3) and road traffic travelling to Heathrow and Gatwick airports. This mirrors the national picture: transport is identified as the main source of pollution in 92% of all AQMAs (Surrey County Council, 2016). Guildford, Mole Valley and Tandridge have not declared any AQMAs. Where a district or borough has declared an AQMA, this is reflected in the relevant Local Transport Strategy and Forward Programme.

AQMAs are declared where the location in question affects dwellings; the smallest AQMA in Surrey affects just one dwelling, while one of the largest affects more than 1,500 dwellings; Spelthorne has declared the entire borough an AQMA. However, it is worth noting that it is not only the residents within the boundary of an AQMA who are affected by the poor air quality; AQMAs are often in busy areas through which many people travel, work or visit.

The districts and boroughs, are currently looking into commissioning a county wide air quality model to look at the impacts of poor air quality across the county, and this will include health impacts.

Number of AQMAs by Local Authority

Region/LA No of AQMAs Link to LA Action Plan
England 544 UK Air DEFRA
Surrey 25 Surrey Transport Plan: Air Quality Strategy
Elmbridge 7 Elmbridge Air Quality & Pollution
Epsom & Ewell 1 Epsom & Ewell Air Quality & Pollution
Guildford 0 Guildford Air Quality & Pollution
Mole Valley 0 Mole Valley Air Quality & Pollution
Reigate & Banstead 9 Reigate & Banstead Air Quality & Pollution
Runnymede 2 Runnymede: Current Air Quality
Spelthorne 1 Spelthorne Air Quality Action Plan
Surrey Heath 1 Surrey Heath Air Quality Action Plan
Tandridge 0 Tandridge Air Quality & Pollution
Waverley 2 Waverley Air Quality & Pollution
Woking 2 Woking Air Quality

For more details on the specific locations of these AQMAs please see this link.

Individuals who live in or adjacent to the AQMA areas are likely to experience higher concentrations of air pollution than others as they spend more time by busy roads increasing their level of exposure.

The Public Health Outcome Framework (PHOF) for England recognises the burden of ill health resulting from poor air quality. PHOF Indicator 3.01 reports that 4.6% of deaths in Surrey during 2015 were attributable to particulate air pollution (PM 2.5), (slightly lower than the South East region and England, 4.7%) (Public Health England, 2015). Based on this data, the worst affected areas are Runnymede (4.9%), followed by Elmbridge, Epsom and Ewell and Spelthorne (all 4.8%).
Fraction of mortality attributable to particulate matter

Region / Local Authority Fraction of mortality [1]
England 4.7
South East 4.7
Surrey 4.6
Elmbridge 4.8
Epsom & Ewell 4.8
Guildford 4.4
Mole Valley 4.4
Reigate & Banstead 4.6
Runnymede 4.9
Spelthorne [2] 4.8
Surrey Heath 4.6
Tandridge 4.5
Waverley 4.0
Woking 4.7

(Public Health England, 2015)
[1] Percentage fraction of all cause adult mortality attributable to anthropogenic particulate air pollution (measured as fine particulate matter PM2.5)
[2] Spelthorne have declared AQMA as whole district

Services in relation to need, unmet needs and service gaps

In Surrey, the main cause of poor air quality is transport. Surrey County Council (SCC) has a duty to work with districts and boroughs to try to address air quality in AQMAs so that these AQMAs can be revoked.

As transport authority, Surrey County Council seeks to address poor air quality in many of its bids to government for transport schemes e.g. sustainable transport packages which seek to promote walking, cycling and use of passenger transport.

We have a toolbox of transport measures included in the Surrey Air Quality Strategy, and these are the sorts of schemes/services we look to implement and deliver through various funding streams. One problem can be that approved schemes are not always delivered in AQMAs so while they may help improve air quality in general, they may not always address poor air quality in known AQMAs. This may be because funding streams dictate to some degree where money can be spent.

Each district/borough with declared AQMAs will have an Air Quality Action Plan, and these will often draw measures from the toolbox in the air quality strategy. These strategies can be accessed via the links earlier on in this section.

In April 2016, DEFRA published revised air quality guidance setting out a new flexible role for upper tier local authority in working towards reducing emissions and concentrations of PM2.5, recognising the need for collective action to address air quality issues. SCC seeks to work in partnership with district and borough air quality officers and environmental health officers to address poor air quality through the Surrey Air Alliance, which has representatives from the District and Borough Councils, Surrey County Council Transport Team and Public Health Team.

Following an air quality presentation by Public Health colleagues at the Health and Wellbeing Board meeting in May 2016, air quality will now be included as part of the ‘Developing a Preventative Approach’ priority within the Health and Wellbeing Strategy. Action to improve air quality supports delivery of wider public health outcomes, for example: active travel to reduce air pollution can also support getting people more active to reduce obesity; improving air quality in the short term could reduce hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory conditions; and in the long term reduce the burden of disease and increase life expectancy.

What works

The transport measures listed in the toolbox within the Air Quality Strategies generally fall into one of two categories:

  • ‘Hard’ engineering measures
  • ‘Soft’ behaviour change measures, also known as demand management

Large scale hard engineering measures have proven to be effective but can be difficult to implement due to their relatively high costs, long timescales and need for political and resident approval. For example, the AQMA at Hindhead was successfully revoked only after the A3 was rerouted through a new tunnel, at a cost of around £371m.

Demand management measures such as those that seek to change the way people travel have also been shown to be effective although influencing people’s behaviour can be complex and the best results are achieved in areas that are engaged intensively for extended periods of time. One example from Surrey is the 2015 trial of roadside anti-idling signs at Reigate level crossing where analysis of before and after surveys carried out showed a 22% increase in car drivers turning their engine off when stationary.

Action Surrey Network – Action Surrey is Surrey’s Low Carbon Community; it is an impartial energy advice centre set up by local councils across Surrey as well as Surrey County Council. Through Action Surrey, residents can access a network of trusted, local and experienced installers who can install various energy saving technologies such as insulation, efficient boilers, solar panels, double glazing and more. Some 3,233 residents have been helped by the interventions facilitated by the Network. In addition to this, 575 tonnes of CO2 have been saved, 667 properties improved.

Recommendations for Commissioning

  • Schools are a particular focus for many local authorities and there have been several successful schemes that engage with pupils and parents to inform them about air pollution and influence their behaviour outside schools.
  • Further work around encouraging active travel, such as, commuting by bike or walking will have complementary benefits for air quality since the goal of these work streams is to replace car journeys with active modes of transport.
  • The growth of electric vehicles (EV) is currently exponential and is often seen as one of the most effective ways of reducing tailpipe emissions without major behaviour change. Surrey’s EV charging network is significantly smaller than those of surrounding counties and requires expansion. There is also potentially a role for public organisations to promote the use of electric vehicles.
  • Hard transport measures require capital funding, which is generally provided by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) or Central Government. However, there are lots of criteria to fulfil when applying to these bodies and their focus is not on the environment, making it more challenging to gain funding from them. Bids to these organisations will be strengthened by support from the Surrey County Council Public Health team.
  • Encouragement and incentives for energy efficiency in homes and businesses.
  • A focus on AQMAs through incorporating appropriate physical transport measures in Infrastructure Delivery Plans, enforcing existing regulations for parking and loading, supporting travel choices that are better for air quality and considering air quality issues in planning and other processes and areas of responsibility.
  • Countywide air quality improvements delivered through synergies with other Surrey Transport Plan strategies and other county council strategies when and where these tend to restrain traffic growth, reduce vehicle delay, reduce vehicle emissions and improve the provision of travel information to people on the air quality impacts of their travel choices.
  • Partnership working with the boroughs and districts, the Highways Agency and with wider partners in Surrey is essential to the delivery of Surrey’s Air Quality Strategy.

Key contacts

  • Lesley Harding – Head of Place Development: Environment & Infrastructure, Surrey county Council

Chapter References

  1. DEFRA, (2007) ‘The Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (Volume 1)’ Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69336/pb12654-air-quality-strategy-vol1-070712.pdf] Accessed 24/01/17]
  2. DEFRA, (2016) ‘Local Air Quality Management Policy Guidance (PG16)’ Available at: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/communications/laqm_changes/supporting_documents/LAQM%20Policy%20Guidance%202016.pdf [Accessed 24/01/17]
  3. Public Health England, (April 2014), ‘Fraction of mortality attributable to particulate matter’,Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/332854/PHE_CRCE_010.pdf [Accessed 16/01/17)
  4. Public Health England, (2017) ‘Public Health Outcomes Framework’ Available at: http://www.phoutcomes.info/search/fraction#gid/1/par/E12000006/ati/102/page/0 [Accessed 24/01/17]
  5. Royal College of Physicians, (2016), ‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’, Available at: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution. [Accessed 05/01/17]
  6. Surrey County Council, (2016) ‘Surrey County Council Transport Plan: Air Quality Strategy 2016’ Available at: https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/90254/Air-Quality-Strat-15th-Update-rebranded.pdf [Accessed 17/01/17)

Signed off by

  • Lesley Harding – Head of Place Development: Environment & Infrastructure, Surrey county Council