Improving York’s air quality and rebuilding a greener and more sustainable city

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At this year’s Air Quality Day York is proudly leading the way nationally by working to implement ambitious plans across the city to improve York’s air quality and move towards becoming carbon zero by 2030.

Earlier in April new research had revealed that York’s air quality had seen significant improvements during lockdown. This follows a positive long-term trend that has seen carbon emissions decrease by 37% over the last 13 years. Whilst similar reductions in air pollution have taken place across the country, here in York we aim to capture, retain and speed up this trend to aid in the administration’s ambitious plan to become zero carbon by 2030.

We have an ambitious electric vehicle programme for the city, and we are now leading the way nationally with the introduction of the largest zero emission Park & Ride fleet in the country. The 21 new vehicles will see us save 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year. This work builds on the £1.6 million investment already made to deliver York’s Clean Air Zone, the first voluntary Clean Air Zone in the UK, as well as our ambition to become the first fully electric bus city.

Whilst York will by no means be the only council aiming to enable a green recovery locally, the crisis has focused our minds on setting in place longer term plans, which would ensure that locally we can rebuild a more sustainable and greener city. This has seen our broader city recovery plans commit to investing in the creation of the next generation of green jobs and the development of the necessary skills to fit the future economy. As a city with two excellent research universities and the most skilled population in the North, we are aiming to take full advantage of our capabilities in bioeconomy and low carbon technologies, which put our city in a unique position to deliver the workforce and facilities to truly build back greener and better.

Throughout lockdown we have all seen the major improvement in air quality in the city. With people returning back to pre-lockdown habits and car usage, it now more important than ever to build on the momentum and continue investing in initiatives and measures, which would help improve air quality in our cities for the benefit of our communities and generations to come.

I am delighted to see that following our continued investment in public transport, electric charging infrastructure and home insulation, earlier in August the Council Executive approved proposals for a new community woodland to be created, which should see 50,000 trees planted by 2023.

The new woodland, being developed as a part of the Northern Forest initiative, will see the council supporting and demonstrating local leadership in creating a sustainable natural environment. The new wooded area will serve as a new green space for the city, increasing the amount and quality of diverse habitats for our wildlife and improving the city’s air quality, with the woodland acting as a carbon sink absorbing some of the emissions produced in York.

According to the Forestry Commission, a newly created native woodland can absorb approximately 300-400 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per hectare during the first 50 years of creation. Based on a site of 150 acres depending upon the density of planting and species of tree, it could remove around 18-24,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent over 50 years after creation. Whilst this represents a fraction of York’s total emissions, the achievement of net zero will require some carbon negative initiatives to balance out the inevitable continuation of some emissions beyond the net zero target date.

This is the latest step in our broader programme of carbon reduction. Whilst there is still some way to go to achieve our ambitious target, every step taken takes us closer to rebuilding a cleaner and greener city.

 

* Paula Widdowson is the Executive Member for Environment and Climate Change at the City of York Council

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4 Comments

  • Any plans for improving the awful northern part of the city by-pass which so often has standing traffic ?

  • Good news that we can use to tell others the good that lib-Dems in local government are doing. It’s interesting that you acknowledge the limited impact of woodland. Six months ago a global expert on Newsnight said the effect of planting of trees to absorb carbon is being greatly exaggerated. Subsequently it was reported that a group of scientists concluded that trees do not absorb much more than grass. Something to bear in mind when planning to deal with carbon emissions. Even more importantly, the environmental issue is not about climate change alone, but about much fairer and more efficient ways of using the earth’s resources. This impacts the rate at which we are destroying the environment, the long term efficiency of business and the fair distribution of access to good housing and green space in our communities.

  • Quite so! There needs to be a lot more of a commodity which is much lacking in the world, common sense!

  • Paula, the initiative has been so effective that, neither I nor anyone I know has noticed. Why not ban traffic coming into central York via Bootham and Walmgate? it’s killing the city and probably the locals.
    Nigel, very true but that information was available before the hysterical tree planting, bidding war in the last election which saw all parties playing to the galary by trying to out green each other, it was truly a pitiful sight.
    In fact a mature ecosystem puts out as much CO2 as it takes in, mature trees should be harvested and converted into high value goods that will be kept for the long term, then replaced by seedlings which will suck a decent amount of carbon out of the atmosphere before reaching a steady state, at which point they should be harvested.

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