5 ways to Use Air Quality Data to Boost your Town Centre Performance

busy roads in Ipswich, UK, Picture by Super Straho, via Unsplash

Pollution from roads affects virtually every part of Britain, with 94% of land having some pollution above background levels, according to recent research by University of Exeter, UK. 

Their lead researcher Ben Phipps said recently in an interview with The Guardian

“In Great Britain, we basically live on an island completely covered by roads. We found half of land is no more than 216 metres from a road. That’s a really shocking and quite depressing statistic and it seems like that would have massive environmental consequences.” 

The government has just announced a £5m fund for Air Quality schemes in towns and cities in the UK.  How far will that stretch and what can be done with a small amount of money locally? 

With the declaration of the climate emergency,  new air quality management policies are required for our towns. But, monitoring localised pollution levels provides a limited picture. In order to effect change it is necessary to combine a wide range of data sources to build evidence for traffic reduction measures.  

Here are my top tips for town centre manager and economic development officers:  

1. Collect Air Quality data from reliable sources such as DEFRA air quality networks,  WestCoTec, or your own * 

2. Cross reference the data with other streams to give a full picture:   air quality data becomes a lot more meaningful when collated alongside weather conditions and traffic levels. When combined with footfall and building occupancy a holistic story emerges. 

3. Communicate data about air quality with all stakeholders – emphasising the key performance indicators in a format they can understand. Different stakeholders want different levels of information – some want a full picture in graphs – others want a readily accessible top line figure. 

4. Have live and trending data readily to hand. When challenged by environmental groups, transport lobbies and the media, you don’t want to spend hours sifting out data to answer questions. Simple and flexible reporting mechanisms are key to responsiveness. 

5.  Use your combined data as evidence to drive change and make the case for more sustainable transport options. This kind of information can be used to support the introduction of bike stations, electric vehicle charging and better access to public transport. Data is always the key to compelling arguments for change. 

Noggin Hub can capture air quality data from any reliable source. This can be combined with other town centre management data streams for a full picture. 

*Potential AirData Suppliers :

Defra air quality monitoring sites,

Defra air quality monitoring sites, managed by the Environment Agency, are high-quality, fixed air quality stations for the monitoring of multiple pollutants. These are typically placed in areas susceptible to air quality deterioration, and while their numbers are limited (a few hundred nationally), they provide the gold standard in air quality data.

Proximity Futures and Westcotec are increasingly deploying networks of air quality sensors for Business Improvement Districts and Local Authorities. These tend to balance cost with accuracy, providing real-time feedback for a variety of pollutants, albeit without the level of calibration required of Defra sites.

Diffusion Tubes remain a popular choice for Local Authorities as a quick, inexpensive solution for measuring NO2. Within a town or city, we may see many tens or even hundreds of these sensors – chemical tubes – deployed to provide benchmark data across a wide area. Although these are simple to use, it can take some time for the results to be returned, so figures are often many weeks delayed.

Community Monitoring 

Consumer and research monitoring networks, typically operated by local groups. One major example being https://maps.sensor.community/#6/53.076/2.666 As these typically use a multitude of hardware and conditions, they ought to be considered indicative only, particularly at a local level. However, consumer and semi-pro hardware is improving and community groups are adding more sensors all the time.

The Noggin Hub is a Software as a Service (SaaS) product that provides low-cost, practical tools for effective placemaking for local authorities and Business Improvement Districts. It quickly collates information on occupancy and performance and presents it to decision makers in an easy to use format that helps them track changes, secure retail occupancy and combat high street decline. 

By Sven Latham | CEO and Founder, Noggin Hub

An Ethos Place Project 

Sven Latham

Sven Latham

Stares at spreadsheets for a living

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