Air pollution in Cambridge

Cambridge skyline

Air quality in Cambridge

Like many other urban areas, Cambridge has an air quality problem.  We are required to monitor air quality in Cambridge through the Local Air Quality Management process, known as LAQM. 

Local Authorities must regularly review and assess air quality in their area and determine whether or not the air quality objectives are likely to be achieved.  Where air quality objectives are unlikely to be met, Air Quality Management Areas must be declared and action plans developed outlining how the local authority intends to address air pollution in this area.  The reviews are carried out every year.  Links to Cambridge City report since 2003 are downloadable and listed at the bottom of this page.

The 2003 review of air quality showed that levels of nitrogen dioxide would not be below the National Air Quality Objectives by the target date of the end of 2005.   Therefore an Air Quality Management Area was declared in 2004.  The purpose of an Air Quality Management Area is to establish an area where air quality must be improved and start the process of working towards these improvements to bring levels of pollutants below the National Air Quality Objectives.

Air Quality Management Area (AQMA)

Nitrogen dioxide is routinely monitored across the city and like most cities the high levels are caused primarily (but not solely) from traffic pollution.  The areas of the city most severely affected by air pollution, with high levels of nitrogen dioxide are:

  • with high levels, the parts the area around the bus station
  • the trafficked parts of the historic core
  • the inner ring road
  • junctions with the inner ring road
  • main radial routes into the city

The boundary of the Air Quality Management Area was therefore defined by the inner ring road and some extension along radial routes.

You can download a map of the air quality management area [PDF].

Air Quality Action Plan

Once an Air Quality Management Area has been established it is a legal requirement to prepare an Air Quality Action Plan, a plan to improve air quality.  The pollutant we are trying to reduce is nitrogen dioxide, which is primarily traffic related.  There are two main reasons for transport related pollution in Cambridgeshire. These are the importance of Cambridge as an employment, education and tourist centre, and the prevalence of long-distance freight on the A14 east-west corridor. These factors lead to high numbers of longer than average commutes to and from Cambridge and a very high proportion of heavy goods vehicles on the trunk roads. The resulting congestion on trunk routes and the centres of Cambridge and the surrounding market towns also exacerbates the problems associated with high traffic flows.

Where road traffic is the main source of pollution leading to an AQMA, it is recommended that Action Plans be integrated into local transport plans so that the issues can be addressed together.  This approach should enable the city and county councils to tackle traffic related emissions effectively and minimise consultation costs for both authorities.

Air Quality Action Plan and the Local Transport Plan 2006 - 2011

The consequent Air Quality Action Plan was integrated into the Cambridgeshire County Council’s Local Transport Plan Two (2006 - 2011), LTP2, which was published in 2006.  It included:

  • Expansion of the Core Area traffic road closure programme to further limit access to the city centre
  • Development of a low emission zone in the historic city centre by setting minimum emission standards for buses and taxis. 
  • A 20 mph speed limit in parts of the city centre
  • Regulation of goods vehicles

Other measures proposed for the Air Quality Action Plan included:

  • A pro-active stance on land-use planning in relation to air quality and a requirement for Air Quality Assessment for new developments
  • Continued limitation of parking in the Core Area by our adopted car parking standards
  • Full implementation of our Cycling And Walking Strategy

Minimum emissions standards have been agreed with bus operators, through the Quality Bus Partnership; taxis continue to be less than 8 years old; a 20 mph zone has been implemented in the city centre; we have produced a Developers Guide for Air Quality.

Air Quality Action Plan 2009

The Air Quality Action Plan was updated in 2009 and integrated with the Action Plans from Huntingdonshire District Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council, working with Cambridgeshire County Council to produce the Air Quality Action Plan for the Cambridgeshire Growth Areas [PDF].

This Joint Air Quality Action Plan set out the nature of air quality problems across the south of Cambridgeshire, assessed the causes and solutions and set out priority areas for action over the next five years. The three Districts and County Council in this partnership are linked by transport issues, which are the primary source of pollutants of concern across the sub-region.  High priority actions include progressive improvement of emissions from the Cambridge bus fleet, the realignment of the A14 and detailed planning policy work.

The Third Local Transport Plan 2011

The Third Local Transport Plan (LTP3) covers the period 2011 – 2026. The preferred strategy for LTP3 focuses on reducing the need to travel while improving accessibility, encouraging the use of environmentally sustainable modes of travel, and reducing reliance on the private car.

The main activities in Cambridge have been continuing working with the County Council and the bus operators to improve the standard of buses in Cambridge and working through the development control process to minimise the impact of new developments.  This work will continue until the National Air Quality Objectives have been achieved.  Against a background of economic and population growth, small improvements in air quality are being observed, but levels of air pollution remain high in many areas.

Cambridge City Council face a continuing challenge in preventing deterioration in air quality resulting from new housing and business activity that will inevitably bring new residents, new workers and more vehicle movements.   Significant transport infrastructure improvements are required to accommodate planned growth.  The Addenbrookes Access Road opened in 2010 and the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway opened in 2011. No improvements to the City Centre infrastructure have been made in the past three years although Cambridgeshire County Council has obtained funding from the Better Bus Area Fund for further improvements and a successful bid for enhancing commuter journeys into Cambridge was made to the Local Sustainable Travel Fund.

The new Air Quality Action Plan 2015-2025 is being prepared. We will consult on the draft version as soon as it is ready. The main themes in the revised Air Quality Action Plan 2015 – 25 will include:

  • Continuing to improve emissions from the vehicles being driven around Cambridge
  • Continuing to improve access to public transport across the city
  • Promoting smarter travel choices
  • Lowering emissions from buildings
  • Managing emissions from new developments within the city through the planning process

If we are to continue to achieve improvements to air quality in central Cambridge and beyond, emissions from all vehicles entering the city will need to be significantly reduced. This is dependent on vehicle manufacturers making further improvements to the emissions from vehicles alongside continued restraint on traffic entering the city and through an accelerated shift to lower emission vehicles.

Air quality reports

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Environmental Quality and Growth (EQG) team

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