Air Quality

Air pollution

Air pollution is the term we use to describe gases and particles in the air that we breathe that are harmful to our health.  We can’t always see it, but air pollution has serious effects on our health and our environment.  

Air pollution comes from many sources; industrial, domestic and transport. Pollutants can travel long distances and combine with each other to create different pollutants. Emissions from distant and local sources can build up into high local concentrations of pollution.  

Historically, the main air pollution problem has been high levels of smoke and sulphur dioxide emitted following the combustion of sulphur-containing fossil fuels such as coal, used for domestic and industrial purposes. These days, the major threat to clean air is now posed by traffic emissions. Petrol and diesel-engined vehicles emit a wide variety of pollutants, principally carbon monoxide (CO), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM10). 

Photochemical reactions resulting from the action of sunlight on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and VOCs, typically emitted from road vehicles, also lead to the formation of ozone (O3). Ozone is a secondary pollutant, which often impacts rural areas far from the original emission site as a result of long-range transport.

In all except worst-case situations, air pollution from industrial and domestic sources tends to be steady or improving over time. However, traffic pollution problems are worsening world-wide. 

Where air quality is poor

In Canterbury city, road traffic emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) along major roads are a problem where residential properties are close to the roadside. The city centre roads are subject to frequent congestion in peak hours due to the high volume of vehicle movements linked to business, school runs, shoppers, university students and tourists into a historic layout of roads. In addition, there is an air quality ‘hotspot’ at the mini roundabout in Herne, again as a result of road traffic passing very close to residential properties. 

Air Quality Management Areas in Canterbury City and Herne were declared in April 2018 because levels of NO2 are above the national air quality objective.

View Air Quality Management Areas

Effects on health

Air quality is the largest environmental health risk in the UK. It shortens lives and contributes to chronic illness. Health can be affected both by short-term, high-pollution episodes and by long-term exposure to lower levels of pollution.  A variety of air pollutants have known or suspected harmful effects on human health and the environment. The pollutants which have the greatest impact on health at levels currently seen in the UK are particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. 

Air pollution is damaging to the health of all of us but particularly young children and those with heart and lung problems.  If your health is good, the levels of air pollution we usually experience in the UK are unlikely to have any serious short-term effects. However, when air pollution levels are high, some people may feel eye irritation, others may start to cough, and some may find that breathing deeply hurts. People with asthma and other lung diseases or heart conditions are at greater risk, especially if they are elderly. Daily changes in air pollution can worsen asthma, trigger increased admissions to hospital and contribute to the premature death of those who are seriously ill.

Long-term exposure (over several years) can reduce life-expectancy, mainly because of increased risk of mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses and from lung cancer.

Sign up to air pollution forecasts to protect your health

The UK Air Information Resource website provides forecasts to give advanced warning of the expected levels of air pollution for the UK. Information is updated daily early in the morning and provides forecasts for today, tomorrow and the following 3 days.

You may also like to sign up to Kent Air forecast emails which tell you predicted air quality and levels of air pollution across Kent.

Health Advice 

  • Avoid busy streets and take cleaner, less congested routes instead.  If you do have to walk along a busy road, staying away from the roadside can reduce your exposure by as much as 30% as air pollution levels can change significantly within only a few metres of the road. Keep back from the roadside when waiting to cross the road or for a bus or taxi.
  • Avoid or reduce strenuous activity outside in highly polluted locations such as busy streets, and particularly if experiencing symptoms such as sore eyes, a cough or sore throat.  
  • Use an asthma reliever inhaler more often, as necessary.  
  • Close external doors and windows facing a busy street at times when traffic is heavy or congested to help stop highly polluted air getting in.
  • If you do have to drive, re-circulate the air inside the cabin, this will reuse the air inside the car rather than draw polluted air from outside.
  • Take care when cooking: Gases and particles are given off when cooking. Ensure the kitchen is properly ventilated when cooking. 
  • Watch the wood burner: Indoor wood burners, especially older versions can release high levels of particles inside, as well as out into the environment. Check yours, and ensure you ventilate your house frequently.   Use cleaner fuels like Ready to Burn wood and more efficient appliances.
  • Open your windows when you clean, do DIY, smoke or do other activities that release pollutants directly into your home.

Air Quality Monitoring

We have two continuous air quality monitoring stations in Canterbury.  One along Military road which monitors nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and one at the former Chaucer School which monitors NO2, ozone and particulates.  Results from these monitoring stations can be found on the Kentair website and our latest air quality annual status report is available here.

The assessment of air pollution levels by continuous monitoring alone is expensive and restrictive as the measurements made are very site specific. In order to evaluate the levels of NO2 across the city and wider district we also use a network of passive diffusion tubes which are a low-cost, flexible method of monitoring. 

View this map of the locations of the air quality monitoring sites and the latest levels of NO

Mythbuster – Let’s clear a few things up


Cyclists and pedestrians are exposed to more air pollution than drivers


As well as being better for your health and fitness, evidence shows that cyclists and pedestrians are also less exposed to air pollution than people in vehicles. This is because your air filter doesn’t remove all of the pollution from the air it circulates and being on the road itself means that your vehicle is surrounded by exhaust fumes. Pedestrians and cyclists are also less exposed because even 1 metre away from traffic, there is considerably less pollution than on the road itself.


Turning your engine on and off again whilst sat in traffic releases more emissions than leaving it running.


Whether you’re stuck in traffic or just waiting to pick someone up, if you think that your car might be stationary for more than a minute it’s better to turn your engine off than leave it running. Doing so will reduce the amount of gases harmful to our health and the environment that your car emits. It’s an easy way to reduce your own contribution to air pollution!


I drive a petrol car, so I’m not a source of the problem


Not really! Whilst petrol vehicles aren’t as polluting as diesel vehicles, petrol vehicles still emit air pollution which is harmful to our health and the environment. Newer petrol engines from 2006 are better and petrol-hybrid vehicles better still, and electric vehicles release zero emissions while driving.


There’s not much any one person can do about air quality


Each and every one of us can make little changes that make a big difference in reducing air pollution.

These include…

  • Getting on your bike more often
  • Using the Park and Ride
  • Turning your engine off in traffic
  • Walking more often and leaving the car at home … and many more!

What are we doing to reduce air pollution?

We have produced an Air Quality Action Plan which outlines the actions we will take to improve air quality over the period 2018-2023.

Here are some of the things we’ve been working on:

  • Improving traffic management by working with Kent County Council and Highways England to make improvements to traffic flow through the city centre
  • Providing new and improved cycle routes including Stour Valley Way, Oyster Bay Trail and the Crab and Winkle line to help encourage fewer car journeys
  • Improving shared cycle/walking pathways, repaving footways and adding new pedestrian zones
  • Working with Bus Operators to improve the local public transport network and get the cleanest fleet in terms of emissions
  • Adopted the Transport Strategy and Air Quality Policy, which form part of the Local Plan and put a strong emphasis on reducing vehicle traffic and the promotion of walking and cycling
  • Digitised a lot of the council’s work to allow staff to work from home or remotely to reduce the number of times they drive into the office
  • Our flexible working policy allows staff to travel to and from work outside peak times
  • Ensuring electric vehicle charging points are installed and travel plans are implemented for new developments
  • Awarded £156,000 Defra air quality grant funding to install 17 dual 22kw electric vehicle charging points into car parks and park and ride sites.  
  • The provision of electric vehicle charging points in our park and ride car parks plus Watling Street, Pound Lane and St Radigunds
  • Installed nine on-street electric vehicle charging points across the district
  • Introduced increased parking charges in the city centre and 20% discount for electric vehicles that are registered for an account at all ANPR car parks
  • Cleaner Air for Schools assemblies and clean air banners given to all primary schools
  • Launched Pollution Patrol a free web-based resource packed with fun stories, games and activities all designed to help children and their families understand what air pollution is, where it comes from and what we can do to help reduce it and stay safe
  • Published a new anti idling webpage at
  • Anti-idling social media campaign to support the installation of 18 anti-idling road signs at three level crossings
  • Replaced one diesel van with an electric van and ordered 9 electric vans to replace 9 diesel vans
  • Supported the registration of the district’s first electric taxi
  • New Park and Ride contract renewed to include 100% Euro 6 bus fleet
  • Review of taxi/private hire vehicle policy so that only the cleanest vehicles are licensed;
  • Produced an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy to increase charging provision across the District
  • New hybrid car club operating from 5 car parks in Canterbury to reduce car ownership
  • Launched an electric scooter hire pilot in Canterbury
  • Adoption of district-wide anti-idling enforcement powersPromotion of the first Kent Air Week – an annual campaign to encourage people to get involved in improving air quality;
  • Installation of a new FIDAS analyser measuring particulates (PM2.5 and PM10) at the Chaucer automatic monitoring site
  • An upgrade of the nitrogen dioxide continuous analyser at the Military Road automatic monitoring site
  • Awarded £130,000 Defra air quality grant funding to install 6 air quality sensors in Canterbury to provide real-time air quality information and to deliver behaviour change communications;
  • Updating the existing electronic signs to display real-time information on availability of parking spaces so that motorists can avoid queuing for car parks that are already full.

What can you do to reduce air pollution?

To reduce pollution in the city it will take a collective effort, and whilst Canterbury City Council has an important role to play, so do residents, local businesses, schools and those who work in the city.

To reduce your own contribution to pollution there are a number of things you can do:

  • You could drive less often. By taking public transport to work just one day every week, you can reduce your pollution contribution by a massive 20%!
  • Try car sharing. Do you know a colleague that lives nearby? Share your commute with them a few days per week. Or join a car sharing club.  When it comes to reducing air pollution, a mile shared is a mile halved!
  • Choose to walk short journeys instead of driving. Need to pick something up from the local shop? Instead of taking the car, take a short walk. It’s better for your fitness and for the air in your community. 
  • Report an excessively smoky lorry or bus exhaust to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).
  • Turn off your engine when stuck in traffic or waiting. If you think you’ll be stationary for more than 1 minute it’s better to switch your engine off.
  • Drive shorter journeys by taking the Park and Ride. Heading into the city centre? Try the Park and Ride instead. You’ll never need to worry about an expired ticket ever again.
  • Drive more efficiently. By using eco-driving techniques to maximise your average MPG as much as possible, you’ll reduce your emissions and need to fill up less often! Check your tyre pressure and oil regularly.
  • Try cycling. New to riding a bike, or want to get some top tips. Take a look at our cycling information here. You could also ask your employer if they have a Cycle2Work scheme. 
  • Feeling inclined to make a massive difference? You could consider switching to an electric vehicle.  Further information about electric vehicles and the grants available can be found at the Energy Saving Trust.
  • If you need to burn solid fuels to heat your home, choosing what you burn and how you burn it can make a big difference to the pollution it creates.  Defra (the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) supports the Woodsure Ready to Burn Scheme and has created this practical guide on how to reduce environmental and health impacts when using wood-burning stoves or open fires. As well as mentioning the Ready to Burn logo as a guarantee of good quality dry wood, it lists guidance on maximising fuel efficiency, appliance servicing and has important information on chimney sweeping – following these steps will help to reduce fuel and maintenance costs, ensure optimum safety for you and your family and minimise the impact on the environment.

Published: 19 September 2022

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