Recently, when I walk my dog on a clear night, I have noticed that I can see more stars than I used too. With fewer vehicles on the road, one of the consequences of lockdown appears to be less pollution, both in terms of light and also air.
The majority of Wokingham Borough has good air quality, but, like most areas of the country, there are a few pockets around our community where pollution levels are higher than we would like and where, consequently, air quality is poor. As a result, we have had three Air Quality Management Areas across the Borough for some time. There is also an Air Quality Agglomeration Zone in Finchampstead, and, while air quality in these areas has improved over time, there is still more we can do.
Recently, Wokingham Borough Council was awarded £150,000 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to help us improve our air quality by encouraging active transport and other sustainable alternatives to driving. Some of this money has been used to fund an Eco-Travel officer to work with schools and other organisations to promote the benefits of sustainable transport. We are also preparing to roll out a plan for vehicle no-idling zones across the Borough.
As part of the budget for the coming year, there is funding to buy new air quality monitors to install in the areas of our Borough where DEFRA’s maps predict that we have the highest levels of air pollution. These new monitors are essential to determining what additional actions are required to further improve our air quality. These new monitors will enable us to truly understand the scale of the issues we face. By understanding our peak time, peak level, mean and baseline air quality, we can then create a targeted action plan that will truly combat the root causes of our issues.
Once we have the data, then, we can set targets around improving our air quality. Understanding the data first means we can act to combat the specific causes. It means that we won’t be setting arbitrary targets or ones that are unachievable, and it means that we can focus our investment on the course of action that will make the most impact both initially and sustainably over the long term.
Adopting targets before we understand the issue would only set us up for failure, especially if we set targets too low. The potential impacts of poor air quality are too important to be so reckless. We need to seek first to understand the size and scale of the challenge we face and then target our actions in the most relevant and impactful way possible. Doing so gives us the best possible chance of success and of improving the air quality of all in the Borough.