Residents visiting the city centre are subjected to almost three times the legal limits of toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2), new figures reveal.

One area in North Street, east of the Clock Tower, recorded an average of 114.3 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre.

The EU-enshrined standard is 40mg per cubic metre.

If this area featured in the latest NO2 concentrations tables for European cities, it would have been placed at the top, above Florence, Stuttgart, London and Paris.

Meanwhile Lewes Road by the Vogue Gyratory and the Elm Grove Junction recorded a yearly average of 67.4 and 63.9 respectively – both more than 50% higher than the legal limit.

Pollution is a historic problem and much of Brighton and Hove is part of a designated air quality management area (AQMA).

But many of the city’s worst areas have seen modest improvements in the last two years.

Four areas, including Buckingham Place, near Seven Dials, and Vicarage Lane in Rottingdean, are now within the legal limit.

But with 44 out of 56 still in breach of EU restrictions, campaigners have accused the council of not doing enough.

The latest readings for 2012 were revealed in council documents ahead of the environment, transport and sustainability committee on Tuesday.


A report by Transport Research Laboratory, commissioned by the council to carry out tests, compared pollution levels in North Street with a Camden kerbside and to London’s Marylebone Road – often listed the most polluted in the UK.

The report found: “The concentrations at the Brighton sites were similar to those experienced at the Camden kerbside site.

“All three sites followed similar trends in concentrations, however some of the highest peaks in concentrations at the Brighton site were not experienced at the other sites, indicating a more localised pollution event.”

Despite the consultant’s claims, the council questioned whether it was accurate to compare the North Street monitoring point with those in London and continental Europe.

A spokeswoman said: “It is not factually correct to claim North Street is the most polluted in Europe, as countries use different monitoring methods.

“For example Marylebone Road and Putney High Street in London are consistently higher than those recorded on North Street.

“However we know there is a particular problem on North Street, so we’ve been doing extra monitoring in the area with new equipment.

“This equipment has only been in place for nine months, so although hard to draw accurate conclusions, it does confirm what we suspected and supports further action in partnership with transport operators.”

Nitrous dioxide is a respiratory irritant associated with acute shortterm and chronic long-term health problems.

The limits on the harmful gas are enshrined in UK and European law and the city could be fined if NO2 levels are not brought down.


The Argus:

Campaigners have urged councillors to adopt new measures to tackle the problem.

The Brighton branch of environmental group Friends of the Earth staged a protest at the Clock Tower to highlight the problem.

The group has suggested radical action such as banning private traffic from the Clock Tower area and forcing buses and taxis to use less pollutant or electric engines.

Chris Todd said: “Poor traffic management and older vehicles are choking the city centre. With levels of air pollution nearly twice the legal limit, it is time for action.

“The city centre is vital to the economy of the city. It is part of our shop window.

“We need to be doing better for visitors and ourselves.

“Air pollution causes thousands of premature deaths every year. It’s a disgrace that so little has been done to address this problem.

“Our proposals would improve air quality, reduce public transport costs, and make it easier and more pleasant for shoppers to move between Churchill Square and The Lanes.”

Campaign group Lewes Road for Clean Air praised the council for their efforts.

Duncan Blinkhorn said: “We’ve been working very constructively with the council, who are making huge efforts to solve this problem.

“We have to be realistic – to see improved air quality we need a long-term change of behaviour away from cars.

“I think they are tackling this more than any other council I know.”


The Argus:

Jamie Rozanski, 21, of Brighton said: “It’s not something I think about, but it’s definitely a busy street.

I’m surprised if it’s the worst in Europe. I don’t think you can really restrict traffic.

Maybe we need more public transport, though it would have to be improved.”

The Argus:

Ian Crawford, 44, of Saltdean, said: “I’m very surprised, I wouldn’t have thought it was so high. Compared to London you wouldn’t think it would be that bad. I don’t feel anything in my lungs from the fumes or anything but it’s definitely the busiest part of Brighton.

There’s a lot of traffic.”

The Argus:

Maria Vera, 38, Seven Dials, said: “Where I’m from in Valencia it’s very warm so it feels like it’s more contaminated. That’s why I was surprised that’s higher than parts of London. I’m not too concerned about my own health, I’m more concerned about the global impacts.”

The Argus:

Peter Gosbee, 27, of pop-up Knowledge Gallery, on North Street, said: “It’s slightly disturbing. I’m concerned about the environment and with us facing that part of the road it’s a shock. I’ve always felt it’s a polluted road. I would like to see it pedestrianised on Sundays.”

The Argus: David Connal

David Connal, 35, of Rush hair salon, on North Street, said: “I’m quite surprised being by the seaside. How does it happen? It’s concerning to think of the health effects.

Traffic needs to be controlled I suppose. Maybe bring in more electric buses and electric cars.”


Diesel buses and taxis are blamed for the poor air quality along North Street and any measure to improve the situation will have to address these sources.

But vehicle restrictions may not be effective. Council documents point to St James’s Street, which has exceeded NO2 standards since 1996 despite being bus and taxionly.

Last year Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company bought two environmentally friendly hybrid electric buses to its fleet.

The buses use less fuel, produce less pollution and create less noise – but at a cost of around £450,000 for two, they do not come cheaply.

The council is also considering a policy of having no taxi ranks within five metres of residential properties and forcing idling cars to cut their engines.

The Argus:

Mick Hildreth, GMB secretary for Brighton and Hove taxi drivers, said: “In general drivers should cut their engines when stationary, the trouble comes when it’s -2C outside and the poor guy is trying to stay warm.”

On green engines for taxis he added: “In an ideal world it would be great to have all the latest technology, but self-employed drivers cannot afford to invest £20,000-£30,000 on a new car.

“We believe in a controlled economy with the correct number of cars and the correct number of jobs. If there are more cars on the roads then there will be more pollution.”

The Argus:

Councillor Gill Mitchell, who sits on the environment, transport and sustainability committee, said Labour are in broad agreement with Green policies on tackling air quality.

She said: “The simple problem is the increased amount of traffic trying to get through the city centre that was built for the horse and cart.

“Narrow streets and high buildings create a canyon effect.

“It’s right that the council focuses on working out how to get traffic through the city in a better way.

“We need to cut down on unnecessary short journeys and encourage more use of public transport.

“There’s no simple solution.

“If we want to thrive as a city and tourist destination some difficult decisions have to be made.”


Initiatives to clean up air quality include using parking charges to discourage car use and electric vehicle infrastructure.

The council wants to see more people on public transport, walking and cycling.

An application to the clean bus fund will be made for more green buses, and proposals such as a restriction on the movement of heavy goods vehicles in the city centre are being explored.

The Argus:

Councillor Pete West, chair of the city’s environment, sustainability and transport committee, said air quality had improved in many areas, but accepted there was much still to do.

He said: “We will be exploring all avenues to improve the situation particularly in those areas that remain stubbornly high.

“Improvements planned or already under way include working with transport operators and businesses to improve fleets, driving styles and sustainable transport alternatives; using technology to help drivers avoid congestion; creating routes that are not dominated by traffic; exploring options to improve air quality by working with taxi operators, and bidding for investment, such as the government’s Clean Bus Technology Fund.

“Engine emission abatement technologies are not suited to low speeds combined with hard acceleration and stopping on hill climbs.

“A high proportion of older petrol vehicles with catalytic converters that perform less well with time also present a challenge.

“We are working to bring about longterm changes to improve air quality which we can only do by joining with partners to make a real difference.

“We fully recognise that the city’s air quality improvements are not repeated around the Clock Tower and in the middle of North Street, where nitrogen oxides levels are still rising.

“And we recognise the concerns of groups such as Friends of the Earth.

“It is no coincidence that this area has a high concentration of diesel-powered buses and taxis, nose-to-tail all day and much of the night.

“And while we welcome the falling rate of nitrogen oxides across the rest of the city, we acknowledge that there is still a long way to go if we’re to reduce roadside pollution to internationally accepted levels.

“For decades, air quality has been ignored by successive city administrations and so there is much left to do.”


by NO2mg/m3

Road 2010 2012 North Street Middle 73.4 83 Lewes Road South West of Gyratory 74.0 63.9 Viaduct Terrace near Ditchling Road 72.8 62.4 New England Road, near Preston Circus 62.8 53.8 Trafalgar Street, North Laine 48.8 41.8 East Street, Old Town 40.3 32.8



Air pollution has long and short-term effects including worsening cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, inhibiting the growth of lung tissue in infants, aggravating asthma and reducing life expectancy.

NO2 is associated with acute shortterm and chronic long-term respiratory problems.

Children under six are particularly vulnerable.

High outdoor levels of nitrogen dioxide have been linked with the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

An American study found high levels of nitrogen dioxide more than doubled the risk of SIDS.