Improving air quality to save lives

April 28 2017

A public meeting held by the Bishopston Society has called for action to be taken on air pollution.


A public meeting held by the Bishopston Society has called for action to be taken on air pollution. 

Three experts spoke about urban air pollution, its causes and effects, and how it concerns Bristol and more locally, Bishopston and the Gloucester Road. The 70 strong audience took part in group discussions and feedback and were clearly engaged with the subject. The second half of the evening was planned so small groups could get together to pool their ideas on how to bring about some positive improvement in local air pollution.

Jim Longhurst, the first speaker, is both a Bishopston resident and an air pollution scientist based at UWE whose research extends world-wide. 

Jim said: “Air pollution is a cause of premature death. In Bristol there is a problem of particulate matter and diesel and petrol fumes but are we willing to take action to improve things?”

Jim went on to explain that an estimated 40 – 50,000 people in the UK die prematurely as a result of breathing nitrous oxides and particulate matter, the smallest of the latter being able to penetrate deeply into and through lung tissues directly into the blood system itself. However, despite this understanding, to date no death certificates have recognised air pollution as a cause of death.

The nitrogen dioxide and particulates produced create a problem in cities because there are so many vehicles operating within a congested space. There are known measures and methods to reduce the scale and complexity of air pollution, but we seem reluctant to take the necessary action through these interventions.

One positive note is that the government is to introduce a new Clean Air programme, a requirement of EU legislation. This should have the effect of making us speed up our compliance with existing European laws on air pollution.

Gavin Spittlehouse, a leading member of Sustainable Bishopston (which co-organised the meeting) gave a wide ranging talk about air pollutants. He pointed out that commercial vehicles are not necessarily the biggest polluters. Because of factors like their less efficient exhaust filtering systems, small diesel cars can, per litre of fuel burnt, produce 10 times the emissions of a large lorry.

Bristol has an air quality monitoring area which covers the city centre with extensions outwards including the Gloucester Road approximately up to Monks Park. There are five major monitoring stations around Bristol (though none are located in North Bristol) which give readings every hour in real time, and these data can be accessed on a dedicated BCC website.

A recently awarded £500,000 grant to Bristol and South Gloucestershire to investigate the setting up of low emission zones in the city could have an impact on pollution levels, though it is doubtful that such a zone would extend out to the Gloucester Road. 

Tom Brook, Labour councillor for Bishopston and Ashley Down mentioned some of the actions being taken by big cities worldwide and said Bristol should use these to inform its own anti-pollution policies. The council is beginning to take action through the setting up of a freight consolidation centre, residents parking schemes, and efforts to improve the bus network.

Jim Longhurst injected some further useful information concerning ClairCity, a new European wide project which UWE is about to begin. Bristol will be one of six cities involved and BCC is a partner in the project. The aim is to find out exactly how citizens of these cities want to live and work in the future - and perhaps, more importantly, what they are prepared to do to help improve the quality of the air they will be breathing in their future cities. Further information on this four year project can be found at