Mark Stacey (pictured), managing director, Crown International, discusses the importance of keeping our getaways, worth getting a way to.
According to the annual Travelodge Holiday Index (published 11 June 2019), 69% of Brits plan to take their annual summer holiday in the UK this year with the top five holiday destinations being Cornwall, Blackpool, Devon, London and The Lake District.
But while holiday makers dream of soaking up the views and breathing fresh air in their favourite rural and coastal holiday retreats, many would be shocked to discover that Devon, Cornwall and The Lake District alone are home to over 15 known air pollution zones where levels of Nitrous Oxides (NOx) and other pollutants regularly exceed legal levels.
Since 1997, every local authority in the country has been required to monitor air quality, reporting levels of NOx, CO2 and other pollutants to the environment department, DEFRA, to make sure they meet legal air quality requirements.
Any areas where national air quality objectives are not likely to be met are identified as Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA), with local authorities required to put in place measures to improve air quality and protect public health and the environment.
So, while the South West and other favourite holiday destinations may enjoy a reputation for clean living and environmental conscientiousness, the detail is a little less wholesome.
In almost all of the AQMAs identified above, the key pollutant is NOx. Under European regulations, NOx should not exceed 200microgrammes/m3 more than 18 times a year, with an annual mean average of just 40 microgrammes/m3. However, in these AQMAs, levels are consistently higher.
As most NOx emissions originate from motor vehicles, it’s no surprise that many AQMAs are located around main routes in and out of these popular holiday destinations. However, many smaller holiday towns also suffer from poor air quality, particularly during peak holiday season as narrow roads that weren’t designed to cope with modern-day traffic slow vehicles to a crawl, increasing roadside pollution.
While cities and urban environments have attempted to tackle air pollution by introducing punitive financial measures to discourage the use of motor vehicles, for areas whose economies are reliant on attracting tourists, such steps don’t offer a realistic solution.
Clean and green
So, how can councils reliant on tourist pounds but already competing with cheap overseas holidays improve air quality without pricing out the very tourists that contribute to the problem or negatively impacting on traditional landscapes that are intrinsic to their attraction?
The obvious starting point is public transport. Several areas of the south west and Cumbria have invested in bespoke bus routes - some operating biofuel fleets - that run during peak holiday seasons to encourage holidaymakers to make greener transport choices. But, as anyone who has ever travelled with pre-school children will sympathise, bus transport isn’t always a practical solution, nor does it allow visitors to explore beyond the main tourist honeypots.
Investing in infrastructure to support the use of electric vehicles offers another solution. Many tourism businesses have already spotted the environmental and commercial benefits of offering a ‘environmentally-friendly’ experience while the unique geography and geology of these areas means many are already hotspots for green energy initiatives.
Investing in electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure is a natural extension of this theme but requires investment at council or local authority level to truly succeed.
The Government has a range of financial resources to help councils improve air quality, which could be used for this purpose and, conscious of pressures on council budgets, manufacturers are also actively working to reduce installation and maintenance costs through innovative design.
For example, Crown’s EV Charge Point can be retrofitted to existing street furniture, eliminating the need to dig up roads to install new cables.
This typically offers councils a saving of £3,000 to £4,000 per charging point, as well as creating a revenue stream from the electricity used.
Retrofitting charge points to existing street furniture also limits the aesthetic impact of this much-needed technology in historic holiday towns and villages, preserving the nature and character of locations that trade on their traditional image.
Other solutions include filters that actively remove NOx from the air and greater use of smart technologies to divert traffic away from congestion pinch points at key times of day.
Apps that help drivers locate and pre-book parking/charging stations can also reduce congestion - and emissions - caused by drivers searching for suitable places to stop, allowing other vehicles to move more freely and reducing their emissions too.
UK engineers have a long history of rising to the challenges of the times and they are no different when it comes to ‘green technologies’.
We need to invest in these technologies, not simply ‘tax’ people, if we truly want to clean up the air we breathe and getting it right doesn’t have to cost the earth!