As I mentioned last week, one of the potential silver linings to our current situation appears to be a significant reduction in vehicle emissions, which has had a knock on effect on air quality.
The BBC has already reported* that the first two weeks of lockdown have resulted a dramatic reductions in air pollution across the country, with some locations showing a 50 or 60% reduction in pollution levels when compared against the same period last year.
Whilst it is not reasonable to expect this scale of improvement to continue long-term **, the long term implications for planning, and in particular for infrastructure projects, could well be significant.
Bringing the UK's legal obligations to reduce vehicle emissions into our planning system and decision making has not been straightforward. Whilst it is clearly a material consideration (particularly for any scheme that requires an EIA), precisely how material has been a matter of some debate and a not insignificant amount of litigation.
From Wealden's extended moratorium on development over concerns over the impact of nitrogen deposits on the Ashdown Forest*!, to the Court decisions in Heathrow and Packham - questions over the extent and impact of air pollution (and our obligations under the Paris Agreement to move to Net Zero Carbon by 2050) have been an increasing feature of the legal landscape for some time.
So, how does the current reduction in vehicle emissions play into this complex legal picture? Well, here I have to defer to our Head of Department, Claire Petricca- Riding, who is also our resident environmental specialist.
According to Claire, the real impact will be felt when analysing the actual data for individual sites or projects. Any baseline measurements taken now, or in the period immediately following lockdown, are likely to be significantly lower than would have been the case just a few months ago, which arguably gives greater headroom for emissions arising out the development itself and/or brings us somewhat closer to our Net Zero target for 2050.
How long this remains a benefit for data collection will depend on how much of the reduction can be sustained after the lockdown has been lifted. In the meantime, it may be a good time to look to track down the audit data from those remote monitoring stations.....
* you can access the article through the link below
** After all, we have had to confine most of the country to their houses to achieve it.
*! which has now been eased.
William Bloss, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Birmingham, said: "What we're seeing in the lockdown... is the reductions in road traffic in our cities translating into much lower levels of NO2. "We're seeing the reductions are greatest in areas most heavily-influenced by road traffic, so city centres, roads in London, Birmingham and other urban centres." A roadside station in Chatham, Kent, has seen its pollution readings halve since the same two-week period last year. Ecologist Simon Curry, who also sits on Medway Council, said: "I'm doing my once-a-day exercise and there's a lot more birdsong that's audible, which is a nice thing to hear."