Air quality in Swindon
Air quality has generally improved significantly in recent decades. Since 1970 sulphur dioxide emissions have decreased by 95%, particulate matter by 73%, and nitrogen oxides by 69%.
Total UK emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) fell by a further 19% between 2010 and 2015. However, poor air quality persists in certain areas of the country and continues to affect human health and our environment.
We now know more about the health impacts of even relatively low levels of air pollution. You can find more information on air pollution and how it affects us all at the Government website.
In 2019, the Government published its Clean Air Strategy. The Environment Act 2021 followed, which enshrined a new legal target for Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5), tightened up local air quality reporting, and put in place new policies for a number of environmental areas.
Local authorities are required by law to monitor local air quality problems and to take action to tackle any problems identified.
We do this and publish an air quality annual status report, which is reviewed and accepted by DEFRA every year.
Pollutants and their sources
The two main pollutants of concern in England are Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5).
Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂)
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is produced when hydrocarbons are burnt, such as in vehicles, home heating, cooking, power generation and industry.
NO2 is a respiratory irritant, and can worsen symptoms of existing respiratory conditions. It is generally a problem near to where it is produced, and so, where problems are found it is usually connected to vehicle use adding to the background levels already in the air.
NO2 is also an environmental concern, as it deposits on the ground and can change soil chemistry; harming biodiversity.
Fine Particulate matter (PM2.5)
Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) is all of the fine particles suspended in the air that we breathe. Because of their small size, they are able to pass into and through the lungs into our bodies, and are thought to contribute to around 5% of deaths in England.
PM2.5 is thought to worsen existing conditions such as Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and help cause cardiovascular disease and Cancers.
Most PM2.5 comes from industry, agriculture, transport, and home fires, with domestic burning making up perhaps 30% of all man-made PM2.5 in the air that we breathe. Because of its extremely small size, it is suspended in air and can travel great distances. It is a regional, national, and trans-boundary pollutant.
In England, levels are highest in the South and South-East, and in urban areas.
Air quality management areas
Local authorities are responsible for managing air quality, working with local stakeholders. We review and assess air quality in our area to determine whether we are likely to achieve the targets set out by Government.
If we think a target will not be met, we must declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) covering the part of the borough where the problem lies. We must then draw up an Air Quality Action Plan stating how we will aim to meet the targets, consulting neighbouring local authorities, businesses, local people, the Highways Agency, the Environment Agency and others where appropriate
We identified one such location, with high (56µg/m3) levels of NO2, on Kingshill Road in Swindon in 2018, and our first Air Quality Management Area was declared soon after, encompassing a 280m stretch of Kingshill Road. An Air Quality Action Plan was published in 2019, and across the 5-year life of that plan; levels have fallen to close to the statutory objective of 40µg/m3.
In December 2023, Swindon’s Cabinet agreed the 2nd iteration of our Air Quality Action Plan, which is designed to reduce levels still further from the 42µg/m3 measured in 2022 to sustainably below the statutory objective of 40µg.
The priorities of our Air Quality Action Plan are to:
- complete the Traffic Regulation Order removing most heavy vehicles from Kingshill, and around 5% of the NO2 emissions
- engage with Swindon residents, businesses and other organisations to promote active travel and public transport use, and so to reduce emissions of the most harmful pollutants.
- prioritise and improve infrastructure for active travel such as walking and cycling
- support low carbon transport development
Details on the above priorities, and how we will achieve them may be found in the Kingshill Air Quality Action Plan.
The Kingshill Road Air Quality Management Area map
The section of the A4289 eastwards from grid reference 414635E 183838N on Kingshill Road to its junction with Okus Road:
Our Action Plan is overseen by the Air Quality Steering Group and the Director of Public Health.
Over half of all local authorities in England have declared AQMAs. This interactive map shows where they are across the UK and which local authorities have declared AQMAs.
If you would like further information about the work of the Air Quality Management Steering Group, or if you have a suggestion for the group please contact housingEP@swindon.gov.uk.