Westminster mounts extensive consulations on pioneering Local Air Quality Action Plan

Local authorities across the country are gearing up to exercise their responsibilities for air quality. Westminster City Council has produced an Air Quality Strategy and Action Plan which sets out a series of initiatives to help clean up the capital's atmosphere.

Westminster City Council, which has established an admirable reputation for mounting initiatives to combat air pollution, has laid claim to being the first local authority in the country to produce a Local Air Quality Strategy and Action Plan.

Westminster’s Environment and Leisure Committee approved the pathfinder plan on 5 April. The document outlines a range of measures to improve air quality, in order to meet National Air Quality Strategy (NAQS) objectives for particulates and nitrogen dioxide in 2004 and 20005, respectively.

Extensive public consultation will now be carried out from April to August 2000. This will include the DETR, local authorities, motoring organisations and the London Tourist Board, transport groups and services, fuel suppliers, residents, businesses and voluntary groups.

Jeff Austin, Acting Director of Environment & Leisure, said: “This strategy, which promotes cleaner, low emission fuels, encourages the use of public transport, and makes use of parking and traffic control measures to improve traffic flow, would, in the long term, reduce air pollution”.

The City Council has a statutory obligation, under the Environment Act 1995, to prepare an Action Plan as National Air Quality Standards (NAQS) objectives are not currently being achieved in Westminster, and are unlikely within the next five years unless further action is taken.

A Review and Assessment of Air Quality in the City of Westminster during 1997-1999 concluded that NAQS objectives would not be met for two pollutants, particulates and nitrogen dioxide. The whole of the city was therefore declared an Air Quality Management Area on 9 March 1999.

Action Plan details

A key measure proposed under the Action Plan is the implementation of a low emission zone (LEZ) in London whereby all diesel vehicles would comply with Euro 3 standards. This would, by 2004 and 2005, bring the majority of the City of Westminster within the NAQS standards for fine particles and nitrogen dioxide.

The Action Plan states: “A Low Emission Zone across all of London would need the support of all participating London boroughs and the new Mayor for London and the Greater London Authority. However the weakening of the NAQS standard for fine particles during 1999 means that a London-wide zone would not be justified as large areas of outer London are unlikely to be declared Air Quality Management Areas. Discussion on the development of a smaller zone has commenced through the offices of the Association of London Government.

“As consultation progresses the geographical extent of the zone can be agreed on and the impact of air quality remodelled. Current proposals for its implementation are that Traffic Regulations orders are made by each participating London borough banning medium and heavy goods vehicles that do not meet Euro 3 standards from the designated area. Euro 2 vehicles fitted with particulate traps or catalysts would be deemed to meet Euro 3 standards.”

The Action Plan proposes that quality partnerships are developed with London Transport Buses and the taxi industry to encourage those fleets to meet Euro 3 standards. It is proposed that quality standards are developed with London Transport Buses and the taxi industry to encourage the voluntary upgrading of those fleets to meet the Euro 3 standard. Focusing vehicle emissions testing on vans and cars to ensure that those classes of vehicle meet the required MoT standards would support this.

Part of the implementation of this plan is to develop a detailed scheme with London boroughs and other key players that can be enforced. The scheme will be self-financing through a licensing charge.

The Action Plan states that the LEZ proposals, developed by consultants on behalf of the City Council and the DETR, have been incorporated on the assumption that other measures which would be taken by the new London Mayor are capable of delivering a 10% traffic reduction across London. This would bring urban background levels of nitrogen dioxide within NAQS standards.

Traffic reduction targets

Referring to investigations into traffic reduction targets for London, the document adds: “A 10% reduction is one of the less ambitious, considered in various studies. If traffic is not in fact reduced by this amount it may be necessary to consider more stringent measures to reduce emissions – for example the exclusion of older private cars from the central area – in order to achieve the NAQS targets. However,” the Action Plan points out, “it is important to keep in mind the over-riding fact that an LEZ is capable of significantly improving air quality with or without the achievement of traffic reduction.”

The Westminster plan also points out that the problem of kerbside exceedances of nitrogen dioxide remains and further computer modelling work will be conducted to estimate the potential impact of specific initiatives on these hotspot areas.

The proposal is not to enforce area bans, but to encourage, through quality partnerships, a conversion of a significant proportion of fleets operating in central areas to lower emission fuels and to identify any feasible traffic management schemes that may lead to reduced emission in those areas.

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