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As we face a range of unprecedented challenges, now is a crucial time to invest in Dover.
Come Brexit, come COVID, the trucks just keep on coming to the UK’s busiest international roll-on roll-off ferry port.
Handling £122 billion of trade or 17% of the UK’s trade in goods, up to 10,000 lorries pass through Dover each day, moving goods that the nation cannot live without.
It’s made possible by Dover’s geographic location and the capacity, service frequency, short crossing time and operational efficiency this delivers. Nowhere else achieves 120 ferry movements in a day, with ferries berthing, discharging, reloading, and sailing again within 45 minutes.
Dover is the closest UK port to mainland Europe, a critical part of the trade superhighway connecting the nation to its largest and nearest trading partner, and still the quickest route to get road-hauled goods there from Ireland.
Dover attracted most attention during Brexit because any risk to its continued smooth operation would be catastrophic for business and UK supply chains. The traffic simply had to keep flowing and it did.
The Port has played a vital role throughout the coronavirus crisis, ensuring it remains fully operational so that the essential goods that Britain has needed to sustain itself during the pandemic, such as food, medicine and critical components, have kept on moving. They have.
Repeatedly, the Port of Dover has demonstrated exceptional resilience, showing why the ‘Short Straits’ system can sustain the UK into the future. The market knows this and continues to be committed to this vital route.
With new ferries and new charter agreements being announced between existing operators to maximise choice and flexibility, and a new ferry operator joining the route this year, Dover remains the market choice for just-in-time supply chains and the international haulage industry that serves the whole of the UK as well as Ireland.
The Port has been seeking Government support as it faces serious post Brexit challenges.
The Port needs new border infrastructure, identified back in 2018, as a result of Britain leaving the EU and consequent new vehicle processing rules. This new infrastructure will double the capacity of border authority booths and mitigate the increased transaction times caused by lengthier and more intrusive checks that have taken place since Brexit. Known as the Outbound Controls Project, it will also deliver a clearer, logical, and more efficient flow through to the ferry check-in and boarding process.
On top of already lengthier border checks, the EU’s Entry Exit System (EES) is due to be introduced in May 2022, which means that all British citizens will have to register a digital identification profile at border control points and undergo a biometric check when entering the Schengen Area under the supervision of a French Police Aux Frontieres official. This raises serious and practical challenges that need addressing now.
Dover calls on government for support and funding now.
This system, as currently designed, is principally for foot passengers at airports; not the smooth and uninterrupted flow of a roll-on roll-off ferry port, where it would be unsafe for families to leave their vehicles in live traffic lanes to carry out the process.
Operating under what are known as juxtaposed controls, profile registration would in theory have to be done at the French border controls in Dover and so potentially affects what is required via the Outbound Controls Project, which means it cannot yet be delivered as the rules for how it will be administered are, as yet, unknown. This is another Anglo-French border matter needing urgent attention and a solution.
Juxtaposed controls are the product of the Treaty of Le Touquet, the fundamental purpose of which is to prevent illegal immigrants from travelling to the UK. It has been a crucial and successful feature of cross-Channel border management for the past two decades. UK border entry checks are carried out in France and French border entry checks are carried out in Dover.
By mitigating the impact of new lengthier checks and keeping traffic flowing, the project’s successful delivery would maintain the integrity of the Treaty of Le Touquet.
However, if the government does not satisfactorily address the EES, then the future viability of the Treaty of Le Touquet could be at risk, with the consequential degradation of an important element of the UK’s border security. The stakes are huge.
At this pivotal time as the UK adapts to a new trading relationship with the EU, emerges from Covid and faces renewed migration challenges, Dover calls on government for support and funding now. This will improve the Port’s resilience and deliver the confidence its customers and their crucial supply chains need.
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The UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), the £92 million partnership between academia and industry, has launched a new Technology and Innovation Hub at Unipart Rail’s Headquarters in Doncaster.
Led by Unipart Rail, the new Hub will support the sector in translating academic research and innovation to solve strategic industry challenges and to enable and develop the next generation of products and services. The Hub will have a particular focus in supporting SMEs, both those established and new to the industry.
The Hub features information and interactive displays on the UKRRIN Centres of Excellence, the Network Rail Research and Development Portfolio and a range of different innovations from across the industry. The Hub has been supported by leading universities including Huddersfield, Southampton and Birmingham and organisations including Network Rail, Unipart Rail, RSSB and the Railway Industry Association (RIA).
Neil McNicholas, Managing Director at Unipart Rail said: “Unipart Rail is extremely proud to be a founding member of UKRRIN and now the home of the UKRRIN technology hub. Our wealth of knowledge, expertise and industry experience positions us as the ideal collaborative partner for SMEs, enabling them to revolutionise the delivery of innovative technology, whilst overcoming barriers to entry. This new facility will support the development of new technologies within academia and the supply chain and provide SMEs with guidance and support in order to establish a commercially viable proposition and a route to market.”
Dr Steve Ingleton, Engineering Director at Unipart Rail, said: “The Technology and Innovation Hub is specifically aimed to bring academia, research and development and industry much closer together to work in partnership to deliver innovation into the sector. The Hub can play a key role in supporting new technology and digital solutions from inception through to market deployment and make a major contribution in the transformation and modernisation of the rail network.”
Jo Binstead, Chair of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), said: “The UKRRIN Technology and Innovation Hub demonstrates how the powerful collaboration between industry and academia has delivered on its promise to bring new technologies to market, accelerating the transformation of our railway, and confirms that the continued investment in Research, Development and Innovation with facilities and expertise for large and small companies to develop, test, validate and deploy innovations ensures the growth of companies in the rail supply chain, and delivers on the Government’s levelling up agenda”
Prof Clive Roberts, Professor of Railway Systems, Head of School of Engineering, Director of the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education and Lead for UKRRIN, said: “I am delighted that UKRRIN is continuing to grow its scope and physical presence with the addition of the new UKRRIN Technology and Innovation Hub. UKRRIN is a truly open network, which allows new industry and academic partners to add new capabilities. The new hub will both act as a location from which we can engage new participants, for example through our Sheffield City Region LEP funded SME-focussed DigiRail programme, and for outputs of UKRRIN to be demonstrated to stakeholders”.
David Clarke, Technical Director of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “I am really pleased to welcome this latest addition to the UKRRIN network. The whole network provides access to the best brains and facilities in UK rail and the new Technology and Innovation Hub is particularly welcome with its focus on supporting SMEs by helping get their products to market, thereby solving real rail industry challenges. All too often innovators underestimate what is needed to move from prototype to approvals and then sales, so the hub will be vital in helping them on that journey”
The Hub was launched at an event on Wednesday 22 September covering the theme of ‘Where Great Ideas Converge’ with a number of UK rail leaders’ providing insights into innovation and digital transformation.
To truly attract people to public transport, local authorities must think big in improving public spaces.
The humble bus stop hasn’t evolved much over the decades. Generally speaking, it’s a pole, a shelter and a seat. You wait, the bus arrives, you get on.
But with buses earmarked by the Government as a political priority, and with the nation’s net zero carbon target looming, perhaps it’s time to get creative about improving that “waiting” experience as we strive to get more people to ditch their cars.
The Go-Ahead Group, one of the UK’s biggest public transport operators, has teamed up with Arup, the engineering and consulting firm, to re-think transport interchanges and to consider what local authorities could do with a little bit of investment, imagination and design.
Called a mobility hub, the interchange of the future will bring together sustainable forms of transport – to make it more convenient and easier than ever to ditch the private car.
A first principle to consider is that we can’t have bus stops everywhere. There will often be a first, or last mile or two of a journey that puts people off public transport. So our vision is for zero-emission buses to call at stops which offer easy interchange with bicycles, electric bikes, electric cars and so-called “micromobility” such as scooters to cover that last bit of distance.
At a simple level, future bus stops can be fitted with wifi and solar panels to power improved lighting and passenger information. Go North East, in the Newcastle area, is already powering some of its service displays, which tell you when the next bus will arrive, with solar energy.
Thinking bigger, to allow people to switch between modes of transport, mobility hubs will need secure bike storage, charging points for electric cars and bikes and lockers for runners and cyclists. Some might have ports for rent-by-the-hour low-carbon vehicles.
To truly attract people to public transport, though, we need to improve public spaces. That means, at interchanges, creating community gardens, playgrounds and, where possible, food and drink. The last 18 months have also told us that people want to work remotely – so there’s scope to have co-working spaces allowing people to rent a desk for 30 minutes, or an hour or two, at bus interchanges.
This might all sound very pleasant – but is it realistic? Well, yes it is, actually, and there’s never been a better opportunity. Because next month, every local authority in England (outside London) will submit a Bus Service Improvement Plan to the Government, under which they’ll bid for a portion of a £3 billion funding pot made available under the national bus strategy – unveiled with a flourish by Boris Johnson at a Birmingham bus garage in March.
If, as a nation, we’re to have any chance of achieving our net zero carbon goal by 2050, we need to prioritise public transport
While much attention has been devoted to building bus lanes, subsidising tickets or buying low-carbon buses, many of those local authorities recognise the need, too, to improve the environment of transport interchanges. Plymouth City Council has announced it wants to create 50 mobility hubs and in Oxfordshire, the transport industry has earmarked sites for 30 of them – including some at existing Park & Ride facilities on key corridors through the county.
If, as a nation, we’re to have any chance of achieving our net zero carbon goal by 2050, we need to prioritise public transport. Lord Deben’s Climate Change Committee has calculated that there’s a need to shift 9-12% of car mileage to walking, cycling or public transport by 2035, rising to 17% by 2050. A single double-decker bus can take as many as 75 cars off the road – so increasing bus patronage is vital in achieving that. And by improving access to public transport in rural areas, mobility hubs could aid both social and economic inclusion.
Our industry has made good progress in improving the on-board experience on buses – with improved accessibility, lower emissions, air conditioning and wifi. But not a lot of love has been given to the bus stop. It’s time for that to change.
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2 min read
The government is looking at updating the law to stop protesters from repeatedly blocking roads after climate campaigners brought motorways to a standstill this week.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps told the Transport Select Committee on Wednesday that while an interim injunction has been granted to deal with the Insulate Britain activists, a review into legislative powers will now be taken.
He told MPs it was “bloody dangerous” to stand in the middle of traffic, after climate emergency protesters blocked parts of the M25 five times in the past week.
Following criticism that the police had not done enough to prevent protesters from bringing the busiest motorway in the country to a halt, last night Shapps instructed National Highways to seek a court injunction that could lead to the imprisonment of protesters, which has now been granted.
“I think the police have been increasingly stepping up their action, but as we’ve seen with the same protesters going back a day or two later and protesting again the powers don’t allow the police to hold people for more than 24 hours, and that is creating problems,” Shapps told the committee this morning.
He said the injunction will become effective later today, and means protesters could find themselves in contempt of court, and a potential prison sentence.
“It barely needs saying, but it’s irresponsible, it’s dangerous, it’s completely counterproductive because it actually creates pollution,” Shapps added.
“Unacceptable behaviour, which I hope this injunction brings to a close.”He said he and Home Secretary Priti Patel had moved to act because “we do not think it’s acceptable to go and stand on a road, it’s bloody dangerous”.
Asked if Parliament will need to make legislative change to deal with this issue in the future, the Cabinet minister replied: “We will review the powers because clearly it’s unacceptable for people that walk on to a motorway, stop the traffic, be released the next day and do the same thing again.
“So of course we’ll have to keep the powers under review and the injunction may just be an interim way of doing that, so the answer is yes.”
As well as targeting the M25, Insulate Britain have tried to block the M11 near Stansted Airport and the M3 in Surrey in recent days, and have vowed to continue protesting until the government takes action on home insulation.
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Lucy Prior, Business Engagement Director at 3Squared, has been appointed Chair of the Railway Industry Association’s (RIA) SME Group.
The role will see Lucy lead one of the industry’s main forums for SMEs, representing them on behalf of RIA, both within the membership and to the wider industry.
Lucy takes on the role having previously been Vice Chair of the Group and following the former Chair John Chappell stepping down due to work commitments. As part of the role, Lucy will sit on the RIA Board, ensuring the views of SMEs across the rail industry are fed into RIA’s work.
Lucy Prior, Chair of the RIA SME Group and Business Engagement Director at 3Squared, said: “I am really looking forward to stepping up to the plate as Chair of the SME Group. It has been brilliant working alongside John, from whom I have learned so much and he really does leave the group in a strong position. I absolutely intend to continue the work he and I have started. I’m looking forward to finding out who is voted in as Vice Chair, now I vacate the role, to work alongside me, Kate Jennings and Isabella Lawson from RIA’s Policy Team, to push the SME agenda for the benefit of the supply chain overall.”
Kate Jennings, Policy Director and SME Lead at the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “We’re delighted to have Lucy onboard as our new SME Group Chair. Lucy has long been an advocate for small businesses across the rail sector, promoting their work in innovation, skills and diversity and exports, to name just a few areas. We know she’ll bring her signature enthusiasm and passion to the role, as she has been similarly doing in her role as Vice Chair.
“We’d also like to thank outgoing chair John Chappell who has done a brilliant job in leading the Group over the past year and a half. John has been a fantastic representative for SMEs, working hard to raise their profile across the industry, to Government, stakeholders and larger businesses. He leaves the Group well-placed to navigate the future opportunities and challenges of the rail sector over the coming years.”
John Chappell, outgoing Chair of the RIA SME Group, said: “It was a privilege to serve as Chair over the last 18 months and I’d like to express my gratitude to SME Group Members for your enthusiasm and encouragement. I hope that I’ve made a little difference during my tenure and helped lay the groundwork for even greater success for the Group and for SME Members in the future. I am very grateful to the RIA team, especially Kate Jennings and Isabella Lawson, and also to Lucy Prior for her fantastic support. I feel certain that the Group will go from strength to strength under Lucy’s leadership. Look forward to bumping into many of you again soon.”
3 min read
Electric vehicle (EV) usage in the midlands is predicted to increase by over 3,000 per cent by 2030. The installation of public charging points must be six times as fast to support growing demand.
It’s been a while since I’ve experienced the joy of bunging my suitcase in the boot of the car and taking a long road trip away from home. However, my most recent trip to Northumberland was special for a different reason.
This year marks my switch to first-time electric vehicle ownership, joining over 92,000 other people who have registered a new battery electric vehicle (BEV) so far in the year-to-date. Electric cars are cleaner, quieter, and more efficient than their petrol and diesel counterparts, adding up to a very pleasant driving experience.
But just how far can you get on a single charge?
According to the manufacturer’s website, with my water-cooled lithium-ion battery I can enjoy a driving range of up to 163 miles. Various sources place the median range of EVs between 150-200 miles, with some high-end models capable of covering double this distance without stopping.
55 per cent of motorists identify lack of charging points as a reason not to buy an electric vehicle
These impressive numbers are largely down to the extraordinary rate of innovation across the automotive industry, boosted by the phase-out date for the internal combustion engine being brough to 2030 – an outcome I campaigned extensively for since my election.
Just last week, an Israeli technology company announced a “world-first” electric vehicle battery which can be fully charged in only 10-minutes.
While I welcome the great strides in battery technology that automotive manufacturers have made in recent years, there will always be a demand for fast, easy, and affordable charging on-the-go. Building the infrastructure needed to guarantee this is one of the challenges the government has set out to address in their Decarbonising Transport Plan, launched in July this year.
In my 2020 policy paper on the topic of EVs, I discussed the problem of range anxiety as a major barrier to consumer uptake. Polling done by Midlands Connect for their recent report, “Supercharging the Midlands”, shows that this feeling is shared by EV owners living in Midlands, with 55 per cent of motorists identifying lack of charging points as a reason not to buy an electric vehicle.
However, despite these concerns, 77 per cent of respondents would consider buying an electric vehicle as their next car, representing a staggering level of optimism among current drivers. This is a clear signal to policymakers – at both national and local level – that the public are ready to change how they travel to help protect our environment.
Recent statistics from Zap Map show there are now over 25,000 public charging devices across the UK, which means that electric vehicle drivers are never more than 25 miles from a chargepoint. But as we increase the number of public charging spots up and down the country, we must also turn our attention to the speed, reliability, cost, and maintenance needs of the UK’s charging infrastructure.
And as more and more people take to the road behind the wheel of an electric vehicle, the chargepoint network must be expanded rapidly. Midlands Connect predict that EV usage in the region will increase by over 3,000 per cent by 2030, and that installation of public charging points must be six times as fast to support growing demand.
In “Supercharging the Midlands”, Midlands Connect have a created a model for this could be done at a local level. I fully support their ambitions to work with local authorities, network operators, private companies and academic institutions across the region to encourage EV uptake and prevent range anxiety becoming more than just a warning light on the dashboard.
Ruth Edwards is the Consrvative MP for Rushcliffe.
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A new economic report published by independent researchers Oxford Economics shows a UK railway industry powering ahead before the pandemic struck last year.
The report, commissioned by the Railway Industry Association (RIA), shows UK rail as a major economic sector, driving growth, investment and jobs right across the UK. With the Government now looking for sectors which can help the country bounce back better, it further highlights how the sector can lead the economic recovery post-Covid.
Oxford Economics found that in 2019, the latest point where economic data is available, the rail industry supported:
- £43 billion GVA in economic growth, compared to £36.4 billion in 2016;
- 710,000 jobs, compared to 600,000 in 2016;
- £14 billion in tax revenue each year, compared to £11 billion in 2016; and
- For every £1 spent in rail, £2.50 of income was generated in the wider economy, compared to £2.20 in 2016.
The report also looks at future scenarios for rail investment, based on National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) research. For example, using the NIC scenarios, the report shows that if rail investment is increased by 50%, the rail sector would contribute to the economy an additional £5.6 billion per year between 2025 and 2029, with an extra 104,000 individuals employed in the industry as a result.
Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “This new research by Oxford Economics reveals that, pre pandemic, the railway industry was growing, and supporting even more jobs and GVA than just a few years earlier. In 2016, every pound spent in rail generated £2.20 of spending in the wider economy, yet by 2019 this had risen to £2.50. This shows that rail is not just an important sector in its own right, but is also crucial for UK plc more widely, its economy and connectivity.
“As the Government seeks to build back better – with a growing economy, which levels-up, is green, and which helps promote Global Britain – it should look no further than the UK railway industry. This report by Oxford Economics shows a bourgeoning rail sector before the pandemic and how rail can provide more economic growth in the future. As passengers now return to the network we should be optimistic about rail’s ability to help with the recovery. With the right Government policy and support, UK rail can continue to be the economic powerhouse the UK will need in the months and years to come.”
Doug Godden, Lead Economist at Oxford Economics, said: “We are delighted to produce this economic research on the value of rail for the Railway Industry Association, showing that the rail industry is a sizeable sector supporting jobs and economic value across the UK. The report shows that the sector had grown significantly from 2016 to 2019 and that, under the National Infrastructure Commission’s scenarios, the industry could produce even more economic value through further rail investment.”
Huw Merriman MP, Chair of the Transport Select Committee, said at the launch of the report: “I really welcome this new report by the researchers at Oxford Economics looking at the economic contribution of rail back in 2019.
“It’s incredibly timely because effectively we need to do this all over again, when it comes to the investment we’ve seen from rail over the last 20 years or so – the doubling of passenger numbers since privatisation. Now more than ever, we need that same zeal and enthusiasm and dynamism which the industry has brought to deliver that success, so we can now pick back up after the pandemic has laid rail numbers low.”
Nick Crossfield, Alstom Managing Director, UK&I said: “We welcome, but are not surprised, by the report’s findings. As the UK’s leading rail sector supplier, we know just how important the rail industry is to transport, to the wider economy and to a low carbon future”.
Kelly Warburton, Unipart Rail’s Managing Director UK Rail & Europe said: “It is so important that the value of the UK rail system is fully understood across the industry and in Government. This new report provides weight to the argument that investment is not only required, but is necessary to support the future prosperity of multiple sectors outside rail and the wider country. We fully support this important contribution to the debate, and commit to supporting the growth of the industry over the coming years through our services that accelerate progress, address environmental challenges and introduces more digital solutions.”
James Quinnell, Chief Commercial Officer, Colas Rail, said: “This timely research confirms and quantifies with hard data the central role the rail network plays in our country’s progress. A thriving railway which puts passengers and freight users at its heart is not only a great business case for investment but is critical to the whole economy and wider society.”
Lizi Stewart, Managing Director, UK Transportation at Atkins, said: “By evaluating the pre-Covid growth of the industry, this report highlights the critical role rail can play in driving economy recovery across all regions of the UK.
“As the rail industry continues to grow, there is a great opportunity for ED&I to be placed at its core, to deliver a sustainable workforce to tackle current and future issues such as Net Zero and the continued Covid recovery. Atkins welcomes the findings of this report, and we look forward to supporting industry and the Government to help the rail industry connect people, businesses and communities, creating vibrant economies where people can thrive.”
The full report can be found at https://we.tl/t-jRlqEhW1Mn
15 June 2021: The Railway Industry Association, and a number of its members, have welcomed the signing today of an Agreement in Principle between the Australian and UK Governments, paving the way for a Free Trade Agreement.
Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), commented: “The UK has long had a close relationship with the Australian railway sector, and it remains as a top priority market for rail suppliers.
“Many UK rail businesses are already winning work in Australia and a free trade agreement between the UK and Australia offers even greater opportunities. It should mean more access to government contracts and mutual recognition of professional qualifications, and also allow UK professionals to work in Australia more easily.
“So we look forward to the UK railway industry working closely with the Department for International Trade, to make the most of these opportunities and boost trade with new partners around the world.”
A number of RIA Members have also welcomed the Agreement.
Craig Harvey, British Steel Commercial Director Rail, said: “Railway operators in Australia currently face an unnecessary 5% import tax. The Australian rail market’s annual spend on rails and sleepers will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, so an FTA that would remove that 5% tax would create a substantial saving for the industry.
“An FTA would also allow British Steel to be more competitive in a market that is crucial to the Australian economy, enabling us to support population growth and resultant freight and passenger movements.”
Justin Moss, Head of Sales Electrification for Siemens Mobility, said: “Siemens Mobility Electrification is based across the UK, including in Lincolnshire, and manufacture products for local rail applications, such as air insulated 25kv switchboards. To date it has not been successful in winning work in Australia via the UK but it is now actively discussing export opportunities for key products and hoping a reciprocal FTA could support that.
“The products we manufacture in the UK have similar standards and requirements to Australia making export a logical next step. The removal of up to 5% tariffs on these products through an FTA will increase the competitiveness of UK manufactured goods, supporting UK jobs and skills investment.”
Andrew Foulkes, Global Marketing Lead at Ricardo Rail, said: “Approximately 25% of our rail sector revenue derives from Australia and we expect this to grow as we look to take advantage of its burgeoning domestic market. A UK-Australia FTA which supports the movement of skilled workers between the UK and Australia will help us transfer skills and knowledge between our UK and Australia teams.”
Rita Mascia, Altro’s Global Bid Manager – Rail, said: “A favourable FTA will ensure Altro continue to be a competitive player within the Australian marketplace, as one of the biggest challenges for us comes from competition from European countries manufacturers who have EU negotiated agreements. Even a small decrease in tariffs would enable us to compete on quality instead of on price. An increase in our rail business will contribute to the growth of our Australian subsidiary of Altro and generate additional employment. Finally, our Australian business is also strategically important in supporting our route to market in South East Asian countries. Favourable FTA gains in Australia will also benefit our growth in the Asia Pacific region.”
Adam Elliott, Rail Project Engineer at Hird Rail Development, said: “A free trade agreement that would result in a reduction in duty costs would make our products a lot more attractive to Australian customers from a cost perspective. As well as generating key jobs within our distributors organisation, with offices based in Sydney and Brisbane.”
Kirsty Dias, Managing Director of PriestmanGoode, said: “A Free Trade Agreement would mean that we could bring our expertise and design skills in both rail and parallel industries to Australia. To work alongside transit providers and local suppliers to create a future rail and transport system across Australia that provides a world ‘best in class’ travel experience as well as building local specialist knowledge and bringing employment through collaboration.”
The UK has an opportunity to lead the way on the global problem of air pollution – but as the latest figures highlight, there’s no time to waste on an issue this pressing.
Put simply, there is no “safe” level of pollutants when it comes to the air we breathe. UK laws currently adhere to EU guidance on fine air particulates (known as PM2.5), which are four times above the World Health Organisation’s PM2.5 legal maximum – and as more and more research finds health impacts of PM2.5 at lower concentrations than the EU’s limits, the UK Government should look to match WHO-approved levels instead.
That’s the recommendation from experts in new publication On Air Quality. The report, released by The University of Manchester’s policy engagement unit, [email protected], looks at the positive impact tackling air pollution could have on everything from individuals’ health to the national economy. It argues that decision-makers from across academia, the public and private sectors, and both local and national government, must come together to create air quality policies that are fit for purpose.
The report also recommends a joined-up approach to tackling air quality and climate change. Approaching both in tandem, it says, will optimise policy efficiency and outcomes – and to maximise the co-benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality, a common policy framework should be developed. Currently, the UK has no policy framework that simultaneously considers greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutant concentrations in planning regulations, which the report’s experts fear is both inefficient and ineffective. When either is approached in isolation, they warn, the other could fail entirely.
Children are disproportionately affected by poor air quality thanks to their higher breathing rate and greater levels of physical activity compared to adults. The On Air Quality publication not only highlights the part indoor and outdoor air pollution can play in children’s respiratory health, but also points to growing evidence that poor air quality contributes to brain-related health problems in children, including cognitive decline. One recent study found that exposure to air pollutants in very early life was linked to a worse change in IQ between the ages of 11 and 70.
Given how much of their time children spend in school, the question of how clean we keep the air around our schools is of growing importance and on this matter at least, progress is being made. In London, the Mayor’s school air quality audit programme assessed 50 primary schools in the capital’s most polluted areas and made recommendations to help schools reduce both emissions and pupils’ exposure to them. While this initiative is clearly a hugely positive step in measuring the scale of the air pollution problem, similar schemes will need to be implemented in cities around the country in order to make an impact nationwide.
Additionally, the On Air Quality report highlights the need for policy interventions that help reduce children’s exposure to traffic-related air pollutants – not only from local and national governments, but from schools themselves. Currently, the Government supports local projects to improve air quality through DEFRA’s air quality grant programme, but funding reviews are needed to ensure competition for grants aren’t negatively impacting some local authorities.
Stephen Edwards, Interim CEO of Living Streets, who contributed to the report highlighted the part we all have to play to ensure air quality is at the top of the agenda:
“Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental and health challenges facing us all. The need to work together to tackle toxic air has never been more urgent.
“At Living Streets, we work with schools nationwide to reduce congestion and air pollution outside school gates. WOW – our walk to school challenge encourages families to leave the car at home, making the journey to school safer, cleaner and healthier.”
Of course, the quality of the air we breathe impacts us at every age – and research even indicates that it acts as a catalyst for cognitive decline in older people. But when it comes to the health effects of air pollution, there’s no such thing as a level playing field, with lower-income groups disproportionately affected by poor air quality.
People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are often exposed to much higher levels of air pollutants; a fact that contributes to the UK’s widening health gap and means that low-income communities can expect to live in good health for less time than their wealthier counterparts, in part thanks to poor air quality where they live.
Writing in the On Air Quality report, Professor Sheena Cruickshank recommends the extension of initiatives such as the Manchester Urban Observatory and citizen science projects like Britain Breathing, which map respiratory symptoms by time and location. Not only can place-based community-centric programmes like these provide accurate on-the-ground information that helps bridge the gaps in our understanding of different areas’ uneven exposure to pollutants, but they are a useful tool in engaging and educating the communities affected.
Recent steps to fund such initiatives have been made by UKRI and the Wellcome Trust, but their effectiveness tends to be undermined by their short durations. Given the skepticism of institutional motives among the communities in question and how long it can take to build trust, longer term partnerships backed by specific funding for community engagement are what’s needed to make an impact.
Acknowledging the disproportionate effects of air pollution on certain groups, Labour MP and Chair of the Air Pollution APPG, Geraint Davies, commented: “Poorer and more diverse communities are likely to suffer worse air pollution leading to shorter, less healthy lives.
“We need to create greater awareness of the risks of pollution, to provide cleaner, more affordable public transport, and to encourage active travel and more working from home. It’s time for Government to help to improve our public health and to help avert climate change by putting legally binding WHO air quality limits into law and to set an example for COP26.”
Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, Munira Wilson, added: ‘The Liberal Democrats and I have been calling for the introduction of a Clean Air Act to bring in safer legal limits on air pollution in line with the guidelines of the World Health Organisation.
“The Government cannot wait a second longer to prevent future deaths and protect our communities.”
Conservative MPs are also highly engaged on the issue and keen to act quickly. Welcoming the report, Neil Parish, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, said: “Improving the nation’s air quality has never been more important than now. Every year, an estimated 64,000 deaths are linked to air pollution, which is disproportionately affecting disadvantaged communities.
“Whilst we are rightly taking great strides in tackling climate change by cutting carbon emissions, we must ensure that improving air quality is also a top priority as we rebuild from the pandemic.”
Jo Gideon, PPS to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and member of the Conservative Environment Network reflected on the issues in her own constituency and said: “Air pollution is a major problem in communities across the UK. Respiratory and other health conditions are adversely affected by poor air quality – people are less active, children do not want to play outside, and people do not want to walk or cycle.
“Air pollution is a vicious cycle. This has been a particular issue recently, as emissions from a local landfill site have led to high levels of hydrogen sulphide, causing great public concern, with impacts on mental as well as physical health.
“We must address all the contributory factors to poor air quality, so the revitalisation and promotion of our bus and rail networks is vital, as well as promoting cycling and active travel.”
You can read the University of Manchester’s full report On Air Quality here.
17 June 2021: The Railway Industry Association (RIA) has welcomed the establishment of the UK Infrastructure Bank in Leeds, which can support rail infrastructure as the Government looks to generate an economic recovery
Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “It’s great to see the new UK Infrastructure Bank set up in Leeds today, which will be vital in supporting infrastructure across the UK, including for rail projects. The railway industry will look forward to working with the Bank, to generate a rail-led recovery post-pandemic, with rail investment creating jobs and economic growth across the UK.
“Interestingly, the Bank’s location in Leeds would mean it would be one of the many beneficiaries – alongside communities across the UK – of HS2 being delivered in full, with the Eastern Leg connecting Birmingham to Leeds. So we continue to urge the Government to publish the Integrated Rail Plan and give the green light to the Eastern Leg, unlocking the full connectivity and economic benefits HS2 provides.”