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Working together for cleaner air

Ann O’Driscoll is director of North Bristol SusCom ltd, a group of major employers located in North Bristol, promoting sustainable commuting to their 40,000+ employees and 30,000 students.  They are working together to influence and improve local transport provision to combat traffic congestion, improve the health of their staff and reduce the impact upon the environment.

North Bristol SusCom want to lead by example and encourages car sharing, walking, cycling, bus use, rail, working from home and other forms of active or public transport as preferred ways to travel to work and around the area on business.

In my role as Director of North Bristol SusCom, I attend quite a wide range of events and participate in a number of working groups that are all linked to trying to reduce congestion and promote sustainable transport. The choices we make every day about how we travel to work, school, the shops not only has an impact on ourselves but also on wider society.

One of the areas I have been keen to learn more about is air quality. I think everyone can agree that poor air quality is a bad thing – the challenge comes when people have to change the way they do things to help solve the problem.

Lucky for me Bristol Green Capital Partnership ran a workshop on 20 September looking at Clean Air Zones and the air quality issues facing Bristol. It was a great opportunity to understand more about air quality in Bristol and talk about what we can all do to try and improve it.

Like the issues of congestion and climate change, there is no one single magic solution to solving the poor air quality issue. It also isn’t something that we can leave to politicians to sort out. Change will require collective action from everyone and that is where the true challenge lies – how do we get everyone to understand the threats we face and how do we get people to change the way they do things?

So what did I learn? Some key facts:

  • Air pollution is a UK public health emergency. In the UK, 40-50,000 people’s lives end early every year because of exposure to 2 specific pollutants - particulate matter and NOx.  That is the equivalent to the population of Clifton, Hartcliffe and Withywood and Southmead combined!  In Bristol the figure is 8.5 % of all deaths annually or 300 deaths a year.
  • It is inner City Bristol where air pollution is highest – but it isn’t necessarily caused by those living in that area but by people travelling to the city centre in motor vehicles. This is a key challenge – where change is needed isn’t always where the root of the problem is.
  • Air pollution in Bristol is equivalent to smoking 1-2 cigarettes on an average day – and can be more when levels are particularly high.
  • Most surprising of all was that high pollution levels in an urban area, particularly under normal commute driving conditions, exposes car drivers (and passengers) to health risks greater than those travelling by other modes (including walking and cycling).

It was also great to hear from some of the other attendees about their experiences and what they are doing to help tackle poor air quality:

  • Knowle West Media Centre is looking at deploying mobile monitors that people can wear to measure local air quality.
  • Up our Street is holding a Neighbourhood Conversation about air quality in collaboration with Bristol Green Capital Partnership in Barton Hill on 11th October 
  • North Bristol NHS Trust run a Travel Smart campaign to help encourage staff to travel to work by walking, cycling, public transport, car sharing. They have recently started a “switch off when you drop off” campaign to reduce idling on site and are producing a local walking map.
  • An inner city GP struck by chronic disease she sees on a daily basis, is collecting stories and is interested in how health professionals in the community can engage in this issue (they are at the sharp end can see the impact of poor air quality on the ground).

As for Clean Air Zones – a study is currently underway to explore how this might work in Bristol, which if implemented will be a stick to drive behaviour change. For me the carrot is better health (and less strain on the NHS) and fewer deaths attributed to poor air quality. Pollution and congestion are a result of the way we have chosen to organise our lives – so if we organise our lives differently we can be rid of pollution and congestion, and make our city a healthier and more pleasurable place to live. Not a simple task but one that needs tackling.

Take part in events related to air quality during Healthy City Week - there will be a Neighbourhood Conversation with Up Our Street on 11 October, and an event discussing the impacts of air pollution on children on 14 October.

Transport, Health & Wellbeing, Blog, Healthy City Week, Air quality
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