Why should I care more about air quality and how can communities and local authorities work together on clean air solutions?
This was the question we put to speakers and attendees of our recent webinar, Air Quality: What to know, What to do in partnership with Oxfordshire County Council.
As a follow up resource, we have developed 10 Tips for working with Local Authorities, which may be a helpful launch pad to thinking about where and how to start in improving air quality.
We also want to hear from you too. How can CAG Oxfordshire support your community group to take action? This short five question survey will inform how we continue to support members interested in this space. Finally, read more about our event below!
10 Tips for working with Local Authorities on Improving Air Quality
1. Pull together a list of air quality allies – your local councillor, your town/parish council, other active groups (ask CAG to connect you!), other charities in this space. Global Action Plan, Friends of the Earth, and Mums for Lungs are some examples, but please share with us if you find others.
2. Know and understand local authorities limitations and processes. There are some things we can’t do and it’s better to use the time to work out what can be done. Then go back to what can’t be done. It may have shifted!
Two examples are:
Defra has a very prescriptive way of measuring and reporting on air quality that local authorities have to follow, which can mean Districts aren’t able to do what residents – or they!- would like.
There are six local authority organisations in Oxfordshire, each have different responsibilities (duties and powers), priorities and budgets. This can cause some “features” which slows up progress on working on actions to tackle the root causes of air pollution.
3. If you feel like you’re at a dead end ask “If you were in my shoes what would you do?” “Who should I speak to next?” and with care “What is it you can help with?”
4. Respond to consultations (as limited and frustrating as they are).
5. Visit Local Initiatives (oxonair.uk) to get ideas of projects you could implement in your local area.
6. Amplify and advocate our campaigns/offerings and then ask for more e.g suggest changes, feedback, and improvements. Share our communications, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. in newsletters and in Whats App groups. Respond with positive comments or questions to start a conversation for others to follow.
7. Use your councillor if you get stuck, with a clear ask of what you want. You might not get exactly what you asked for, but it might be closer. Consider one, some or all of your parish or town councillor, your District Councillor or your County Councillor. Find out who they are here.
8. Read through committee reports to get a feel for where officers/councils are with a topic. Ask officers for the latest committee/board report they wrote related to the topic. Get a weblink to it, they are often buried.
9. Consider asking for the data, evidence, guidance, policy, strategy, or “Toolkits” on air quality. Officers should be able to save you some time finding them at least. There will be A LOT, but we can at least save you time finding the key information. This may be important for any grants/bids as references. As a good place to start check out oxonair.uk
10. Be clear about what it is you want, but keep your eye on the bigger picture and play the long game.
It's been ten years since Ella Roberta Adoo Kissi-Debrah died aged nine from acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and air pollution exposure. She was the first person to have air pollution identified as a medical cause of death on her death certificate. Recognising the sombre, but important anniversary of this event, we invited Mums for Lungs, Oxfordshire local authorities, Oxford Friends of the Earth, and Thame Green Living to this online event to hear about what’s happening at the national, county, and local level.
Mums for Lungs volunteer, Celeste Hicks, shared her personal story of why she became involved after testing for high levels of carbon monoxide during pregnancy, likely as a result of high levels of air pollution living in London, and the shock she felt. She shared valuable insights into recent and ongoing Mums for Lungs campaigns and the importance of raising air pollution as a social justice issue. Celeste also outlined for the group that actions for air pollution are currently happening at a very local level including local councils, and that there isn’t much happening at the national level. If a bill named after Ella gets some traction (ELLA’S LAW | The Ella Roberta Foundation), she voiced that this would be a big step in the right direction in terms of national policy. In the meantime, she noted that it’s really important for community advocates to support councils who are trying to make strides toward cleaner air with a voice saying “yes, we do want action on air pollution.”
Kate Eveleigh and Simon Hill, as representatives from both tiers of local authorities in Oxfordshire (Oxfordshire County Council and South Oxfordshire District Council, respectively) unveiled the new County Council Air Quality Strategy and Oxfordshire website, which includes a page with over 50 Oxfordshire air quality projects. They also shared that there is a network of air quality sensors and that this range of monitors is used for different purposes looking at air quality across the county. People can sign up for text alerts for poor air quality days and track real time air quality levels where those sensors operate.
Chris Church from Oxford Friends of the Earth (FoE) talked about FoE campaigns including the Oxfordshire Clean Air Charter, in which seven out of ten actions are making progress in Oxfordshire. There is also the Do You Fuel Good? Campaign with Oxford City Council, and twenty crowdfunded citizen science Purple air quality monitors in Oxford.
Finally, Charles Boundy from Thame Green Living, outlined the importance of community action and the framework of their Thame Green Living Plan adopted by the Thame Town Council in 2020. He highlighted that three different constituencies – individuals, community groups, and infrastructure organisations (such as councils and highways) need to work together to bring about change. Charles outlined challenges to creating change such as process, politics, a public that isn’t sure how to help, lack of funds, and too late community engagement. However, by viewing each partner as a critical asset in finding solutions, Charles charged the group with moving beyond the challenge to take action now.
CELESTE HICKS, Volunteer, Mums for Lungs
Formed in London in 2017 by a small group of parents, Mums for Lungs is a nonprofit, grassroots environmental campaign group, which raises awareness of the health effects of air pollution, particularly on children. Celeste has been involved with Mums for Lungs since 2018 when she became concerned about air pollution when her sons were very small. She is a journalist, author, and communications manager working across environmental initiatives.
KATE EVELEIGH, Health Improvement Practitioner, Oxfordshire County Council
Kate works in the Public Health team at OCC. An Environmental Health Officer by profession, but has been at the County Council for ten years. More recently she has collaborated with District colleagues on the topic of air quality and going back to her roots 20 years ago. Working with Joe Kay, Strategic Transport Planner they developed the County Councils first Air Quality Strategy and have been working since to turn it into reality.
SIMON HILL, Environmental Protection Team Leader, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils
Simon has worked within Environmental Protection in local government for nearly 20 years, with 18 years at South Oxfordshire District Council. He is the Environmental Protection Team Leader managing a team of officers working within Environmental Health dealing with a wide range of work topics including local air quality management, nuisance complaints, contaminated land, private water supplies, animal welfare licensing to name but a few.
CHRIS CHURCH, Oxford Friends of the Earth
Chris is a long-time campaigner and advocate for a healthier, more sustainable Oxfordshire. He has led the fight on many successful campaigns within Oxford and the surrounding County from air quality to zero carbon homes to nature recovery.
CHARLES BOUNDY, Founding Member, Thame Green Living
Charles co-founded Founded RSA Thame Group in 2014 and is lead author of the Thame Green Living Plan, published in 2020. His focus areas are Walking (Green spaces and routes) and Clean Air and Freedom from Pollution.
DR AJIT SINGH, Institute of Applied Health Research, Senior Research Fellow, University of Birmingham
Ajit is an environmental scientist with particular interest in air pollution measurements and management. His research and associated activities are focused on improving air quality and related knowledge in both developed and developing countries through interdisciplinary and life-cycle approaches by better understanding the climate, health and socio-economic consequences of poor air quality. He is working on a number of multi-national projects (involving the UK, Africa, Australia, India and USA among others) combining engineering, environmental, social and health sciences to provide a better understanding of the nexus between air pollution, climate, health and energy to improve environmental and health data & policies for socio-economic benefits and sustainable development.
DR RUARAIDH DOBSON, Programme Manager (Air Quality), Trilateral Research
Ruaraidh leads work on air quality, health and environment at Trilateral. His key interest is making data on air pollution meaningful, understandable and urgent to protect health and encourage effective changes in policy and behaviour.
He has rich experience in air pollution monitoring, epidemiology and behavioural science. He has worked on research in more than a dozen countries across Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia and has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles on air pollution exposure and health. He was formerly the UKRI Clean Air Champion for Scotland.
Ruaraidh’s work focuses on the “now what?” of air quality and environmental data. This includes understanding the health, wealth and wellbeing effects of outdoor air pollution in local communities to create positive conditions for change, as well as research on how exposure changes over time for different groups of people. He has a keen interest in using air pollution data to achieve net zero and decarbonisation goals.
KIM SUTHERLAND, School Engagement Officer, Oxfordshire County Council
Kim works in the travel plans and behaviour change team as the School Engagement Officer. Kim’s role is to work with schools to support more active and sustainable journeys to school. One project Kim is involved in implementing presently is School Streets, with the aim of creating safer places for children and their families to travel to school actively and sustainably. Kim has been at the Council for 5 years working with local communities in transport related roles.
ANDY LEDERER, Principal Officer – Arboriculture (Trees), Oxfordshire County Council
Andy has worked in the arboricultural (tree) profession for more than 18 years, with a large proportion of his work being within the public sector. He has worked for a variety of Local Authorities, including the London Borough of Islington and currently, Oxfordshire County Council, where he is the Principal Officer. Before joining the County Council, Andy was the Development Director for the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF). Andy has been on the CAVAT Group since 2019 and he presented at the first NTOC in 2016.