A couple of weeks ago, many of you will have been telling stories of Father Christmas coming down the chimney to deliver gifts from his (presumably) zero-emission sleigh.
Now in reality, none of us would want to get too close to the harmful smoke which can come out of our chimneys. There has been an increase in the number of homes burning solid fuel in recent years and the smoke this emits can be damaging to people’s health.
In fact, Public Health England estimates that solid fuel burning could now account for more than 30 per cent of local particulate emissions (PM2.5), which can be particularly harmful to the young, elderly, and those with respiratory problems.
Reading’s new Air Quality Action Plan is focusing on reducing these emissions over the next five years, and one element of it is to introduce a borough-wide Smoke Control Area.
Currently, 62 per cent of Reading is already under a Smoke Control Area and, if approved by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), this will extend to the whole borough by winter 2024. We will make sure all residents are kept informed of how this could affect them in the coming months.
The good news is that Reading’s air quality is improving. Our monitoring network shows there has been a considerable reduction in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions, associated with car fumes, over the last four years and there have been several initiatives involving the Council and its partners which have contributed towards this.
These include the opening of Green Park Station in May 2023, extension of the Southern Bus Rapid Transit corridor on the A33, expansion of the cycle network, investment in a modern Reading Buses fleet, and reduced taxi licence fees for electric and ultra-low emission vehicles.
However, there are still some places in Reading where levels of air pollution are too high.
None of us want to breathe in air pollution, but it is the most vulnerable in our communities who suffer the most. Poor air quality can cause, complicate, or exacerbate conditions such as cancer, asthma, strokes, heart disease, and obesity. Meanwhile, a Bristol University study found that young children, young adults, and households in poverty are among those exposed to the highest levels of traffic-related air pollution.
We recently launched a consultation on our draft Air Quality Action Plan 2024-29 (running until January 17), which contains details of how the Council plans to tackle poor air quality in the years ahead. Beyond the borough-wide Smoke Control Area, this includes issuing air quality planning guidance for constructions sites, implementing the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy and launching a school air quality awareness programme.
I am particularly excited about the last project which will encourage primary and secondary school pupils to learn more about air quality in a fun and interesting way. And we all know how important it is to engage children and young people in these important environmental topics, as they are the decision makers of the future.
As we embark on a new year, we want all residents to have a happy and healthy 2024 and that includes everybody being able to breathe clean, fresh air.
If you want to have your say on our Air Quality Action Plan, visit consult.reading.gov.uk/dens/air-quality-action-plan-2024-2029-consultation/.