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Majority of drivers prepared to act to make air cleaner in Colchester

Results of Clean air for Colchester survey indicate

Date issued: 19 June 2020

A survey of 1,181 people has revealed a large majority of drivers in Colchester are prepared to take action, by turning off their car engines when stationary, because they are concerned about poor air quality in the borough.

Colchester Borough Council launched the Clean air for Colchester survey in October 2019, as part of its two-year project to raise awareness of air quality issues in Colchester and encourage people to act.

The survey aimed to get a better understanding of what people currently know about air quality and the impact it has on their health.

As the main source of Colchester’s pollution comes from vehicles, a key part of the survey explored driving habits and how people could be encouraged to make easy changes – like switching car engines off whilst stationary, which can cut pollution by up to 30%.

The survey revealed that:
  • 87% of adults are concerned about air quality in general
  • 41% of adults think of Colchester as ‘highly polluted’ 
  • Only 15% of drivers regularly switch off their engines whilst waiting at traffic lights or level crossings but after taking the survey 84% said they would now consider switching off their engine regularly
  • 56% said knowing how long they will wait at traffic lights would encourage them to switch off. 
  • 45% said roadside reminders would encourage them to regularly switch their engines off
Councillor Martin Goss, Colchester Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Waste, Environment and Transportation, said: “These survey results give a really good insight into current behaviours and knowledge around the air quality issues that we face here in Colchester; and give the team invaluable information to help determine what we can do to improve air quality.

“The environment remains our number-one priority and it’s so important that we continue to work together to improve our air quality in Colchester, especially lowering emissions in our most polluted streets.

“The reduction of traffic congestion and pollution throughout the coronavirus pandemic and during the lockdown period has shown us all what a difference we can make through simple changes in our daily behaviour. We want residents to take notice of this and the impact they can have, and we hope people won’t jump straight back in their cars but keep making those short distance trips by foot or bike wherever they can.

An important part of this two-year project is that it is guided by the people of Colchester and that the next steps in the project reflect their level of concern and desire for action.

One of the key findings from the survey was that 84% of drivers said they would now consider switching off their engine regularly. Most indicated that they would be more motivated to switch off if they knew how long they would be waiting at traffic lights and level crossings, and if roadside reminders were in place.

In response to these findings, the council put in a bid to DEFRA for additional funding to explore traffic light timers and signage for the borough. The council was successful and has been awarded an additional £59,785 grant from Defra as part of the Air Quality Grant Scheme 2019-2020.

The funding will cover work into both signage and a feasibility study of driver facing traffic signal countdown timers. The feasibility study will determine whether it would be possible to have the timers on existing traffic lights and will explore the economic cost and technicalities of installing the timers as an encouragement for drivers to switch off their engines at red lights in Colchester. This study will not result in the installation of countdown timers, but instead it will assess the effectiveness of the use of such technologies.

The project to help enhance the borough’s air quality supports the objectives of Livewell Colchester which aims to improve residents’ health and wellbeing.
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