We celebrate Clean Air Day this Thursday, 8 October, with a renewed commitment to improving air quality and reducing air pollution in our beautiful borough.

In collaboration with our partners at Surrey County Council, the University of Surrey, Guildford Environmental Forum, Highways England, the Environment Agency, easit network, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Surrey Environment Partnership, Surrey Wildlife Trust, Plastic Free Guildford, Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership and Surrey Air Alliance, as well as local residents, we continue to protect and enhance Guildford’s future.

In July, we agreed a new high-level action plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, and Councillors will tonight (Tuesday 6 October) discuss the ‘Citizens Assembly on Climate Change’ petition, to “involve the residents of Guildford in a citizens’ assembly”, which ran between January and March 2020. Proposals for a Car Free Day are also being considered by our Joint Committee with Surrey County Council in the near future to improve air quality in the town centre.

Lead Councillor for Climate Change, Cllr Jan Harwood says:

“Improving air quality in the borough is one of our highest priorities. Air quality can be a major factor in the health of a community, particularly in making existing health conditions worse and increasing the impact of Coronavirus (Covid-19). Air pollution causes up to 36,000 deaths in the UK every year, and NHS England attribute 5% of deaths of people over 30 to air pollution. We are therefore more conscious than ever of the air that we are breathing. We must do all we can on a local level to protect our residents and visitors and become more environmentally sustainable by leading the way in making positive changes to reduce our carbon footprint. We are committed to becoming a net-zero carbon borough by 2030, and have already reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 43% since 2019.

“In the last decade, we have invested approximately £10 million on energy-saving projects to make significant carbon reductions across our own estate and in our social housing. Energy-use accounts for 80% of all Council emissions and so is a vitally important part of our Action Plan. The appointment of our new Climate Change Officer, who took up his post at the end of September, will help us to collaborate more closely with partners and the wider community and play an even greater part in creating a more sustainable future.

“On Clean Air Day, everybody can do their bit by making some small changes to their lifestyle and daily routine: walking, cycling or using public transport more, sharing cars with work colleagues, turning off your engine if you are stopped at a junction or outside a school for more than 10 seconds, buying local produce, and not burning waste can all make a real difference.”

Adrian Thompson, Chairman of Guildford Environmental Forum says:

“We are delighted to be working with the Council to help shape the future of Guildford and make it a greener, more sustainable town by educating, cutting energy use, reducing ecological footprints, helping wildlife and tackling climate change. We strongly support its desire to achieve net-zero carbon in the management of its own estate by 2030 and plans to work with residents, businesses and visitors. The Climate Emergency is now more urgent than ever and GEF is concerned by the lack of a coordinated plan to tackle it across the wider community, which accounts for 98% of Guildford’s carbon emissions.”

The University of Surrey’s iSCAPE (Improving the Smart Control of Air Pollution in Europe), GCARE (Global Centre for Clean Air Research) and Living Lab projects have made Guildford a world-class hub for research and innovation in tackling air pollution and climate change. Their work with local communities, including schools and businesses, has improved air quality in the borough whilst creating strategies of worldwide importance.

We have created Air Quality Action Plans for Shalford and Compton, as well as Management Plans for the A3, A331 and other major approach roads into the town, and have improved our carbon dioxide emission analysis. We also manage 33 air quality monitoring stations to measure levels of nitrogen dioxide, which can harm the lungs.

Our new Climate Change, Sustainable Design, Construction and Energy planning document, published in September, will help all new housing developments to have lower carbon emissions, be more sustainable and better able to meet the challenge of climate change. All of our developments already meet Passivhaus energy efficiency standards, and we have installed Air Source Heat Pumps, which use air from outside to heat a house, in many of our own buildings and social housing.

We are also part of Action Surrey’s Green Jump Surrey scheme, which entitles households who receive a means-tested benefit or have a combined income of less than £30,000 per year to a grant to improve energy efficiency in their home.

The newly-renovated Guildford Crematorium uses solar panels to provide two-thirds of its electricity, with excess heat from the cremation process also used to heat the buildings. All emissions at the Crematorium have harmful pollutants and nitrogen dioxide removed.

One-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come from food, and we recycle 4,400 tonnes of food waste every year. We also recycle over 200 tonnes of textiles (a sector which accounts for 10% of global emissions every year) and 44 tonnes of small electrical items in the borough.

Our 700 hectares of award-winning parks and countryside space are managed for biodiversity of wildlife habitats and ecosystems, and use peat-free compost and recycled water to grow our flower baskets and troughs. We also compost and reuse all green waste, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The solar-panelled water troughs at Wey Valley Meadows ensure water supply for grazing cattle and help to prevent erosion and contamination of the river bank. Areas of Stoke Park, Compton Common and Merrow Downs are some of our most biodiverse habitats and act as carbon sinks, which absorb more carbon than they release.

We provide many options to help people reduce the number of car journeys they make. easitGUILDFORD offers discounts on rail and bus travel, plus reduced bike and car hire, to employees of participating businesses. 12 organisations, representing approximately 8000 staff, have joined, including Electronic Arts, Philips Electronics and The Royal Surrey Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

Our nine Park and Ride buses are the largest fleet of electric buses outside of London, made locally by Alexander Dennis Ltd, whilst 10% of our vehicle fleet is electric. We have 48 and in collaboration with Surrey County Council are installing 20 new electric vehicle charging points across the borough. Electric vehicles also qualify for reduced parking permit fees, whilst our smartphone parking app directs motorists to the cheapest and closest parking spaces.

Our active travel plans are linking The Royal Surrey County Hospital, Surrey Research Park and University of Surrey to the town centre through improved pedestrian and cycle paths. Proposals for the new Guildford West railway station in Park Barn are working towards an anticipated opening date in 2025.

Hundreds of pupils at six local Primary Schools enjoyed learning about air quality earlier this year, with a tour jointly-funded by ourselves and Surrey County Council. Performance in Education’s production of ‘Abbie Ayre and the Shed of Science’ showed how everyone can make a difference in the fight against air pollution by making small changes to their own lifestyle, such as walking to school or reducing the number of hours spent playing video games.

All of our meetings have been paperless since April, and a number of Councillors and senior staff will this week attend a Carbon Literacy Training course to learn about the science behind climate change and the policies which can make a real difference.