Leeds is home to one of the most polluted roads in the country, according to new research.
Friends of the Earth research found that 1,300 sites across England exceeded the annual average air quality target of 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air (μg/m) for nitrogen dioxide in 2018 – the most recent year for which data is available.
They found that the Neville Street tunnel in Leeds had the fourth-highest level of nitrogen dioxide and the annual average (88 μg/m) was more than double the recommended safe limit of 40 μg/m.
Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant which mostly comes from traffic fumes and, along with other pollution such as particulate matter, is linked to health issues such as lung and respiratory diseases and early deaths.
Friends of the Earth wants to see polluting vehicles – which also contribute carbon emissions that are warming the planet – removed from the roads and transport cleaned up.
The road in Leeds city centre has long-standing problems with air pollution and in July 2019 members of the climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion blocked it with a week-long protest.
Leeds City Council is looking to revamp Neville Street with new pedestrian and cycle-friendly routes, as part of a multi-million redevelopment of the entrance to Leeds station.
The council has previously said it wants to close the road to all vehicles, except taxis and buses, as part of a wider project to improve the city centre’s road network, but cannot progress with the plans until Armley Gyratory has been redeveloped.
Simon Bowens, clean air campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said failing to fix air pollution costs lives and showed a failure to address the climate crisis.
“If ministers want to avoid a return to the health-damaging and illegal levels of air pollution we had before lockdown, their enthusiasm for ‘active travel’ needs to be a permanent switch and not just a short-term gap plugger.
“The government must also end its damaging fixation on building more roads.
“You can’t justify this by planning to phase out polluting petrol and diesel vehicles and replace them with electric ones.
“We need to go much further than just getting out of one type of car and into another.
“Investment in better cycling and walking should be part of a fair and green post-coronavirus economic recovery plan aimed at creating a cleaner, fairer future.”