Green pressure forces Exeter Council to come clean on air pollution

Following weeks of ‘dither and delay’ Greens say their pressure on the Labour-run City Council to release air pollution figures has paid off. Green councillor, Diana Moore, requested air pollution figures for the lockdown period at a Council scrutiny meeting in July. She was told at the time that raw data could not be released without first being verified by DEFRA, despite other councils around the country sharing data publicly [1]. However, under continued pressure from the Greens, the Council made a U-turn, and the data will be released within the next two weeks.

Cllr Diana Moore said:

"The Council have now conceded they can publish unverified data relating to air quality during the lockdown as other councils across the UK have already done. This a is a matter of public interest. We need to know if the city’s poor, and in some cases illegal, air quality caused by traffic improved during lockdown. Figures from other cities show dramatic drops in air pollution during this time. So the publication of this data will help inform future action, especially on transport.

"Many people welcomed cleaner air and safer streets during lockdown, and we have seen an increase in walking and cycling. Lower traffic levels create a virtuous circle, improving public health through cleaner air and increasing activity. It’s good to see an end to the dither and delay and the council coming clean on air pollution."

The most recent report on air quality in Exeter acknowledges there is little overall progress on tackling the city’s poor air quality. In 2018, 50 out of 67 monitoring locations showed increases from levels measured in 2017, while in 2019, 60 out the same 67 locations showed decreases from 2018 levels. The report says, "variation between years… will not become clear until data can be evaluated over a longer timescale."

However, averages are calculated over a whole year, which Greens say has the potential to distort the 2020 figures. Cllr Moore concluded:

"Average annual air quality figures for 2020 could prove deeply misleading. We need to compare figures during lockdown with data before and after lockdown to get an accurate picture of how traffic levels impact on air pollution." 


[1] Examples of councils publishing raw air quality data: