Agenda item

Air Quality Action Plan update and Schools Monitoring project results

Gareth Jones, Senior Environmental Health Officer (CBC) and a GCC representative has been invited


Objective: receive an update on progress on the revised Air Quality Action Plan and consider the results from the Cheltenham Schools Air Quality monitoring


The Chairman welcomed Gareth Jones (Senior Environmental Health Officer – CBC) and a short time later, Jo Atkins (Thinktravel co-ordinator – GCC).  He reminded members that as well as receiving an update on the revised Air Quality Action Plan, they would also be considering the results of the schools air quality monitoring and could discuss next steps.


Gareth Jones had circulated an update with the agenda, but summarised that the revised action plan was a statutory document that needed to be submitted to DEFRA by September and progress on this was reasonable.  He had hoped to have received an update from the consultants today, which he would have shared with the committee, but unfortunately he hadn’t received anything, but he did confirm that the plan would include ideas for addressing the air quality issue in the specific AQMA at the bottom of the high street.  Given that a significant amount of pollution was caused by LGVs and Royal Mail operated a large fleet of LGVs from that area and were on record as having committed to improving their environmental performance, he was pleased to announce that he was due to meet with Royal Mail the following day.  Members’ may have seen media coverage that in Bristol, Royal Mail had, or were about to go entirely electric and it would be great if they could be  persuaded to do the same in Cheltenham, and tomorrow would be the first step. 


He referred members to the other report which was circulated with the agenda, which summarised the results from some survey work around three schools and highlighted that the results were actually quite confusing.  They certainly didn’t show the clear differences between holidays and term time, but it was important to note that there were a lot of other things going on at the time, particularly road works, which would have affected the result.  It had however, been a very interesting piece of work and he felt demonstrated that the team could do more of it in the future. 


Gareth gave the following responses to member questions:


  • The period of monitoring was during the Easter half term and the period immediately after, when schools were open and levels of covid/self-isolation were relatively low, meaning there were no widespread closures of schools or parts of schools that we were seeing at the moment; so in his view covid had not impacted the data in the results.  In terms of next steps on this, he felt anything was possible, longer periods of monitoring, at more schools, but there would be a cost associated which would exceed the remarkably low £3k that they had managed to deliver this project for; in no short part down to the fact that they had managed to find a very cost effective intern to write the report, which he felt was of outstanding quality and consultants would be far less cost effective.   


  • CBC already monitored pm 10 and 2.5 more than they had done in the past and the mesh pods were located across the town and were generating interesting results, which would be shared on the website.    A recommendation from the recent inquest into a young girl in Croydon whose death was linked to air pollution, was that local authorities should not only monitor more, and CBC already did way above the minimum which was required, but that they should report that more so that the public could change their behaviour based on the monitoring that was being done.  The problem was that whilst there was a lot of data, it was also incredibly detailed and not necessarily in an easy to digest format, which would take time and resource to rectify, or prove unhelpful to the public.  It was also noted here that short term events could make data look alarming, particularly particulates if someone lit a bonfire just downwind of a monitoring point it would look dreadful but it wasn’t long term, much like gritters in the winter. 


  • The Air Quality Action Plan was due to be published by September and progress was reasonable, but he felt that DEFRA would prefer a good quality plan, rather than one that was simply finalised by September. 


  • The national limit for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is 40 micrograms per meter cubed (ug/m3) and a very, very small number of authorities had set a more ambitious target of 30, though he suggested that it was highly likely that they already met a lower limit for the vast majority of their area.  Actually most of Cheltenham would be below 30, so there was potential to set a self-imposed lower limit but as he had never tried to quantify the number or proportion of homes that would meet that limit, he suggested that getting areas that exceeded 40 would be a big enough job and that to have that as a longer term aspiration would be more sensible. 


  • In response to a question about air quality relating to new commercial developments he confirmed that the Air Quality Action Plan would touch on planning policy, but this was unlikely to be prominent given that the area that the AQMA covered wasn’t likely to get a supermarket any time soon.  He also noted that the problem in the AQMA wasn’t caused by HGVs because the low bridge prevented them from accessing the area. 


  • The source of peak levels of fine particulates often includes distant sources, including the Sahara.  That fine orangey dust from Europe and beyond on warm southern air that dropped here.  This probably occurred 3-4 times a year and our mesh pods were brilliant in detecting it across the town, showing a rapid increase over the course of a few hours and then drop off again.  This did also occur surprising often near quarries or building sites, for a short term. 


Jo Atkins introduced herself, as heading up the Thinktravel team at GCC and her team had been working closely with Gareth during the Schools Streets trial, which was agreed by GCC last year in association with climate change targets. 


Jo gave a short background to School Streets.  The initiative originated in London Boroughs where an increasing percentage of streets around schools were experiencing poor air quality and road safety issues associated with the school drop-off. 


A School Street provided a safer and cleaner physical environment by controlling the volume of traffic at school run times, whilst combining school led behaviour change and education initiatives to promote and encourage active travel (cycling, walking and scooting) as being not only great for your health but also great for the environment.    Best practise had shown, people were influenced by their immediate environment and were more inclined to make a change from the car, if the right circumstances are created; a liveable healthy street for everybody. 


Locations for the original London School Streets were located in high density urban environments, with higher volumes of traffic and poor air quality as a baseline. However, measuring air quality around the school run had proven challenging outside of London and across the UK,  due to the peaks not being long enough or extreme enough to be picked up by normal monitoring processes which would be affordable as part of a project of this nature.


GCC liaised with CBC on air quality monitoring and what best suited the School Streets trial. Diffusion tubes were chosen to measure Nox at each trial site linked to the local borough’s monitoring data collection systems and analysis to provide a baseline indicator for the trial.  The current monitoring, would be reviewed at 12 months and 18 months.  As a consequence, the current measurement of Air Quality around the school gates, was therefore not expected to yield much variation. Additionally, it was felt the locality of the trial sites on quieter residential roads did not warrant investing in high quality equipment. 


Alongside the monitoring, GCC Thinktravel focussed on developing an air quality education package and how our daily travel choices affect our carbon footprint whilst creating a safer environment to influence behaviour changes. This had been challenging during COVID, due to lockdown and transition restrictions but some key events have been delivered (like Sustrans Big Pedal) and the programme would be picked up again next academic year hopefully.

As an important part of the School Streets trial, a stakeholder group for each site was set up. In Cheltenham, it comprised of Warden Hill Primary School, County, Borough and Parish Councillors, Governors and residents.  The School Streets survey and other feedback suggested the biggest impact so far at 6 months, had been how safe it now felt for those arriving on the school run.  However, the stakeholder group were also focussed on finding solutions to minimise any displacement of traffic and encouraging long term modal shift away from the car.  However, a further consultation was currently taking place and a full assessment of the scheme would occur at the end of the 18 month trial.    

However, many planned initiatives, as already mentioned, were challenging due to COVID including a Walking Bus from a Park and Stride scheme.  However, progress had been made in other areas including, GCC renewing its membership for Modeshift Stars, a nationally accredited travel planning framework.  The online platform is free and accessible to all schools to record their baseline evidence, current travel patterns whilst assessing barriers to active travel and how they could overcome them.

GCC Thinktravel were also launching a new project with Liftshare, to trial a ‘new Mobility ways’ platform (due to launch in September), which would capture peoples school run and onward journeys to work and set relevant carbon saving targets on our goal to net zero.   GCC would look first to develop a school community  car sharing group from the Park and Stride site aiming to significantly reduce onward journeys,  If the trial was successful, it could potentially be rolled out further in the long term.

The Chairman asked, as he did with all external guests, if there was anything they needed from CBC.  Jo was keen to understand how GCC could realistically support CBC in the increased monitoring they were undertaking near schools especially around poor air quality areas such as West Cheltenham. 

GCC were aware that in some circumstances, schools situated in poor air quality, were not the instigators of the pollution necessarily, it was their locality and proximity to a popular commuting and through-routes, so careful solutions to addressing the air quality at these sites needed to be applied.

GCC were starting to look at ‘the healthy streets approach and Lucy Saunders 10 Indicators’ detailing ‘what makes a healthy street?

Jo also noted that GCC would be interested to have further discussions with the new Air Quality Officer at CBC.  GCC would like to undertake some joint school initiatives, as Jo was aware that schools were inundated by surveys currently and due consideration on how data can be effectively collected and analysed would be very beneficial going forward contributing to a dynamic ‘active’ Modeshift STARS School Travel Plan. 



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