Sheffield Council disputes research claiming that city centre air pollution 25 per cent above pre-pandemic level

Claims that air pollution in the Devonshire Green area of the city centre is now worse than before the pandemic have been rebutted by Sheffield City Council, which says they are now lower.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 12:22 pm

Researchers from environmental consultancy Ricardo Energy & Environment analysed air quality, including nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter levels, in several major cities including London, Glasgow and Manchester as well as Sheffield.

The company says it found levels at Devonshire Green to be 25 per cent higher than pre-lockdown levels for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from March to May 2021.

The research was conducted at 34 automatic roadside air quality monitoring (AURN) sites in the UK by the consultancy for air quality and ventilation specialists Nuaire.

Within Reason on Devonshire Green

The researchers also looked at Sheffield Tinsley and Sheffield Barnsley Road, which did not show the same return to normality.

However, the council has produced its own evidence to show that air pollution levels are actually 21 per cent down on pre-pandemic figures.

The city’s air quality team say that their diffusion tubes results for NO2 at Devonshire Green are 29 for January to April 2019, 20 for the same period in 2020, which includes half of March and all of April in the first lockdown, and 23 for January to April this year.

“The above results suggest that 2021 compared with 2019 (pre-pandemic) for the period is 21% lower,” said a spokesperson.

Cars parked at Devonshire Green

The council’s AURN results for January to June this year show NO2 levels between 23 and 26, an average of 25, which the it says is nowhere near the mean average annual limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

On Barnsley Road, the average for the same period was 36 – it hit 43 in January – and Tinsley’s was 24.

PM10 fine particulate levels for January to June on Devonshire Green averaged at 13, with figures ranging from 8 to 16. The limit for these is also 40.

And levels of PM2.5 particles averaged at 11, with January the lowest at 7 and June the highest at 21. The annual legal limit is an average of 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

Assessing the consultancy’s figures, Dr Mark Bloomfield of Ricardo Energy & Environment said: “The short answer is that we don’t know why levels in Sheffield Devonshire Green are even higher than we would expect under ‘business as usual’.

"Our analysis indicates that the levels here reached the business as usual levels last September, and have more or less stayed there – before picking up even more in March-May 2021.”

Dr Bloomfield believed traffic pollution was likely to be the major cause of the pollution levels found because they focused on roadside locations.

“As to what can be done about it – maybe there are barriers in the way of people continuing to adopt the ‘low travel’ lifestyle that was a feature of the first lockdown.

An air quality monitoring station behind the skate park at Devonshire Green

“For example, if people don’t have access to reliable high-speed internet, it may not be possible to work from home. That could be one problem with a pretty obvious solution.”

He also said that better transport links would help to get people out of their cars.

The Telegraph reported last week that other research released on Clean Air Day (June 17) showed that two-thirds of schools in the Sheffield postcode area have air pollution above World Health Organisation safety levels.

The city council has announced plans for a Clean Air Zone in the city centre inside the inner ring road, charging lorries and taxis £10 to enter.

A spokeswoman for the authority said: “The council is still taking a lot of positive action to improve air quality, including undertaking the Connecting Sheffield programme, active travel and anti-idling campaigns outside of schools and maintaining the AirAware campaign.”

University students Nurul Noor Amali, left, and Fuqing Tian

People we spoke to who live and work in Devonshire Green – before we received the council’s response – were surprised by the Ricardo findings.

A shop worker at Within Reason said: “I’d say I was surprised. It’s interesting and slightly concerning.” She thought that the traffic diversions in the area might have an effect.

At the Green Room bar, manager Kieran McKenna commented: “You’d imagine it should be lower with the pedestrianisation down the road (on Division Street). It’s quite surprising, actually. I’d not thought it would be different.

"It’s been quieter than usual, mostly because of table service. People find it less enjoyable and most of it’s foot traffic. A lot of people are leaving earlier to get a bus or tram.”

Tattooist Nathan Copeland agreed and thought there was more of a problem in cities like Manchester.

University of Sheffield aerospace engineering students Sara Lai and Jane Malallane were studying while enjoying the sun on the green.

Sara said: “I’m surprised. In parts of the world, pollution has gone down. In Italy pollution went down during the first lockdown.”

Jane added: “Some people did predict that after lockdown pollution would go up again. I’m surprised but not that much.”

Final-year urban planning students Nurul Noor Amali and Fuqing Tian, who had finally sat in a lecture hall after a horrible academic year, even wondered if the equipment was giving accurate readings.

Fuqing, who lives on West Street, said that people were more likely to use cars than public transport at the moment to keep themselves isolated.

She said she had also noticed more people in the area, like herself, ordering online and getting food and other goods delivered to them than before the pandemic.

The Green Room bar on Devonshire Green
Traffic on Fitzwilliam Street near Devonshire Green
Cars parked at Devonshire Green