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Council officer argues business case for air quality alerts

Sussex Air Quality Partnership officer tells delegates at Cleaner Air Conference that work is being done to prove health and financial benefits of air quality alerts service

Councils need to put across the ‘business case’ for air quality public alert systems, to ensure that government funding for the service is not lost, a senior local authority air quality expert has said.

The comments came from Nigel Jenkins, project manager for the Sussex Air Quality Partnership (SAQP), a joint project between the 13 local authorities in east and west Sussex.

Sussex map

airAlert is a free to use service available to residents across Sussex

Mr Jenkins was talking at a session on best practices for local improvements in air quality, at the Cleaner Air Conference, run by the Greater London Authority at City Hall on Tuesday (January 22).

SAQP runs airAlert, a service that is available to those with respiratory problems, providing them with free air quality warnings when pollution levels are forecast to be high.

Much of the funding for the airAlert service comes from Defra’s air quality grants, but local authorities are required to provide detailed progress reports to the government in order to prove that the service is useful to residents and that money is being spent effectively.

Benefits

Mr Jenkins explained that it is difficult to prove the health benefits of the airAlert scheme, but said that the Partnership was keen to find a way to quantify its benefits in order to protect the service from future budget cuts.

He said: “There are about 500 vulnerable people who get the service from us, but there are challenges. Something like airAlert is quite unsustainable because we rely on funds from Defra to keep the service going, so we need to build in a business case for it.

“What we need to do is build up a health evidence base to say that this intervention helps people, that is what we are working on at the moment.â€?

Delegates also heard that Sussex AQP is working with King’s College to assess the likely impact of an air pollution episode on admissions to hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, and how early warnings could mitigate this, thus saving costs to the taxpayer.

He added: “The cost of hospital admission for one or two nights is around £2,000. If you can prevent those admission costs, the service can help save money.â€?

The session also heard from Liz Bates, principal environmental protection officer at York city council who told delegates about the work the local authority had done to improve air quality in the city.

Councillors approved plans to adopt a new low emission strategy in September last year (see AirQualityNews story) and Ms Bates revealed that the council was looking at establishing a ‘pay as you go’ charging network for electric vehicles, to try and encourage more residents to use low emission transport within the city.

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