Air Clean Up

  • Luton Ranked Worst for UK Air Pollution

Luton Ranked Worst for UK Air Pollution

Jan 12 2020 Read 1160 Times

Luton has been awarded the ignominious title of worst predicted air quality in the UK, according to new research carried out by Lancaster University and the Birmingham Institute for Forest Research. The innovative study did not content itself with merely measuring the amount of pollutants generated by the city, but delved further to explore how the layout of the buildings themselves affected actual concentrations of contaminants in the air.

While Luton produced approximately as many emissions as is to be expected for a town of its size, the dense and tightly-packed nature of its layout means that there is nowhere for the pollution to disperse. In turn, this has led to the Bedfordshire town accruing the unwanted accolade of worst air pollution hotspot in the whole of the UK.

A novel study

The team behind the research accessed government statistics to compile a computer model of the relationship between the population of a town or city, the air pollution emitted and the expected total concentration of contaminants based on the previous factors. Although they did include a number of different pollutants, the focus of the study remained on measuring and monitoring the nitrogen oxides gases produced by car exhaust pipes.

These findings were then cross-referenced against actual air pollution concentrations in the 146 most populous urban areas in Britain to create a league table of how clean the air was in any given town or city compared to how clean it was predicted to be given its size and emissions. The results were surprising, to say the least.

Bottom of the pile

Luton came out worst among all the urban locales tested due to the compactness of the city and the tight layout of its infrastructure. Other places which underperformed compared to their projections included several towns and cities in the Midlands, such as Coventry and Leamington Spa. Crawley in West Sussex, Stevenage in Hertfordshire and Cardiff in Wales also returned results that were below those expected.

London, meanwhile, did better than expected. Although the UK capital regularly exceeds pollution limits imposed by the EU with alarming speediness, the prevalence of public transport means that it doesn’t emit as many emissions as could be expected for a city of its size; in fact, it didn’t even make the top 20 cities overall. In terms of actual concentrations, it fared slightly less well, coming mid-table with regard to the amount of pollution in its airways in comparison to that which was predicted.

Room to breathe

The towns and cities which came out on top in the study were those in which the layout of the infrastructure allows for easy dispersal of contaminants. Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire was top of the leader board, while Aldershot in Hampshire, Macclesfield in Chesire and Livingston in Scotland all benefited from the expansive layout of their roads, buildings and green spaces.

“Milton Keynes is at the top of our list, doing much better than we would expect with the biggest gap between the amount of pollution produced and the concentrations in the air we breathe,” explained Professor Rob Mackenzie, lead author on the study. “The town’s middling rank for emissions reflects personal transport choices and the town’s traffic management; it’s much-better-than-expected performance for concentrations reflects the way the city is laid out, with its distinctive mix of grids and roundabouts, and the inclusion of parks and green spaces, which all contribute to this overall effect.”

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