Data-driven revamp in Northampton

The project aims to help identify pollution hot spots caused by traffic.

A network of air quality monitors has been installed by West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) at key locations in Northampton, as part of a long-term plan to improve sustainability and air quality, and to enhance Northampton’s smart town status.

Until recently, there was just a single continuous air quality monitoring station in or near Northampton. Part of the government’s Automatic Urban Monitoring Network, the reference station has monitored ozone, NOx and fine particulates since 2017. Today, Northampton is benefiting from a further 20 small air quality monitors, manufactured by the company Airly. These new monitors are known as indicative monitors because they do not offer the high levels of accuracy and precision provided by reference monitors. However, indicative air quality monitors are being rapidly deployed around the world because they cost substantially less, and because they are mostly small and simple to deploy in the locations of greatest concern.

The installation of the new air quality monitoring network represents an essential component of a project being driven by WNC. “Urban air quality is the subject of considerable public concern, and it is vitally important that we are able to make informed decisions,” explains WNC leader Cllr Jonathan Nunn. “We know that one of the most important factors affecting air quality is vehicular traffic, so it is vital that we know where the pollution hot-spots are, and that we understand the factors affecting them. The monitoring network will therefore provide us with an air quality baseline and a means with which to measure the success of mitigation measures.

“In the past we had to rely on models that estimated air quality, but with the new sensors positioned in the locations that matter most, we will be able to calibrate those models and better understand the quality of air that local people are breathing.

“We are also delighted to be able to provide local citizens with easy access to transparent air quality data; accessible via the Airly air quality App. This data will help vulnerable people such as those with Asthma or COPD to manage their levels of exposure. It will also make the invisible visible; identifying pollution hot-spots and helping drivers for example, to understand the impact of idling during drop-off and pick-up times at schools.”

Awareness drives change?
Airly monitors can be installed by Iris IOT. Their Stephen Westley says: “We are looking to help urban areas exploit the benefits of smart technology. The Airly monitors, for example, will help local people to better understand how their actions affect air quality. As a result, we hope that they will buy less polluting cars, use public transport, and avoid idling in pollution hot spots.

“Transparency and public engagement are two key features of smart solutions so, for example, we are working with local partners such as the University of Northampton to develop novel methods for the public display of air quality data.” Following a similar theme, Airly has recently announced a partnership with JCDecaux to display live readings in locations such as bus shelters.

WNC’s expanding air quality monitoring network also forms an important component of the Council’s long-term sustainability strategy to achieve Net Zero for its own emissions by 2030 and Net Zero for West Northants’ emissions by 2045 – five years ahead of the UK Government’s 2050 target. WNC has signed the UK100 Net Zero pledge, which focuses on tackling the climate emergency and reducing carbon emissions.

“Air quality is closely related to greenhouse gas emissions,” explains Jonathan Nunn. “Emissions from vehicles represent a significant proportion of our carbon footprint, so if we can use air quality measurements to improve traffic management, we will lower carbon emissions and improve air quality at the same time,” he adds.

“The new monitoring network will ensure that our air quality strategy is data-driven, but I must emphasise that this initiative is just one example of the ways in which we are developing Northampton; using smart technologies, to create one of the country’s leading smart towns.”