Smart Transport

Highways England still has £87.2m left to spend from £100m budget on air quality improvement

Highways England still has the majority of its £100 million budget left to spend on improving air quality as part of a five year project that ends in 2021.

The government-owned company responded to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Air Quality News, that revealed that it has only spent £12.8m of the total fund due to the fact that research projects that have been worked on over the last five years did not provide solutions that would have provided enough of a tangible impact on improving air quality.

Highways England was given £100m by the Government in 2015 with the remit to improve air quality on the road network between 2015 and 2021. It was directed to spend £75m by March next year.

At the time of Highways England’s launch of its Air Quality Strategy in April 2015, the public body had started trialling an air quality barrier on the M62.

This was a 100 metre long barrier initially four metres high and raised to six metres in early 2016.

It then progressed to carry out a trial of a barrier incorporating an innovative material with potential to clean the air.

Highways England said at the time: “We are using these trials to investigate if barriers can help contribute to improving air quality.

“The results from the monitoring of such trials will help us understand if this has been a success with the potential to implement barriers on our network. We are also investigating if we can reduce the costs to construct a canopy, which is a tunnel-like structure designed to prevent vehicle emissions.”

Highways England undertook 10 pilot studies to help reduce air quality between 2015 and 2018.

These pilot studies were proposed as ways to help “get to the heart of the problem so as to identify appropriate new and innovative solutions to improve air quality on our network”.

The pilot studies included:

  • A feasibility pilot study into the use of incentives to speed up the modernisation of the HGV fleet.
  • A programme of geographic pilot studies. Studies on the M1 Tinsley (Sheffield), north-west quadrant of the M60 (Manchester) and A38 Derby were started before the end of 2015 and a fourth study covering parts of the M6 in the West Midlands started in early 2016. These studies are to provide Highways England with a much greater understanding of the causes of poor air quality in these areas and how it can tackle it.
  • A study to look at opportunities to optimise the flow of vehicles on the strategic road network and how best to deliver this with minimal impact.
  • A trial of a barrier incorporating a new polymer material with the potential to absorb NO2.
  • A study to test the emissions from vehicles using a paraffinic fuel, which could be an alternative for all diesel engines.
  • An electric van demonstrator project seeking to find ways to accelerate the uptake of commercial EVs.
  • A study to determine how Highways England can better use information to achieve air quality improvements.

Highways England said: “All our pilot studies will inform solutions across the whole network not just in the study location.

“We will look to implement solutions quickly, especially those supporting the delivery of schemes, though this will be dependent upon value for money and affordability assessment.”

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