A study has revealed Southampton was exposed to air pollution exceeding the World Health Organisation’s safety limit in 2022.

Analysis from environmental organisation Friends of the Earth found approximately 253,000 people were breathing polluted air in the city last year.

Government figures show air pollution is linked to up to 36,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs told the Echo: “It’s completely unacceptable.

"Thousands of people in Southampton live in areas where air pollution is double the safety level (50 grams off pollutant per cubic metre of air), with children, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions particularly at risk.

“Recent government decisions to back-pedal on policies that would improve air quality - such as funding better cycling provision and financial support and incentives to switch to cleaner cars – will simply prolong people’s misery.”

Commenting on the findings, MP for Southampton Itchen, Royston Smith said: “Having seen the so-called evidence used by Sadik Khan in London, I am naturally sceptical of research commissioned by special interest groups.

“Southampton is a port city. It generates vehicle movements to ensure we have trade in and out of the port protecting jobs and our economy.

“There are one or two hot spots where pollution is marginally above the levels recommended by the UN, but these are being dealt with.

“We all want air as clean as possible as quickly as possible, but we also need to protect my constituent’s livelihoods.

Daily Echo: Southampton Itchen MP, Royston SmithSouthampton Itchen MP, Royston Smith

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“It sounds to me like the Labour Council is laying the groundwork to re-introduce their failed Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) again as they struggle to balance their budget.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Southampton City Council said they’re tackling the "air quality challenge".

They said: “As with all major urban areas, Southampton still experiences high levels of poor air quality and in certain areas has monitored annual average concentrations of the pollutant Nitrogen Dioxide which has exceeded statutory air quality standards.

“To tackle the air quality challenge, The council delivers an air quality management programme. This includes the council’s Local NO2 Plan (essentially a non-charging Clean Air Zone) which has now been delivered.

“Despite the improvements in air quality monitored and compliance with statutory objectives being achieved, the council want to see further reductions in the impact air quality has on the health of our residents.

“For this reason, the council updated its Air Quality Action Plan at the beginning of this year, setting out 60 new measures the council will implement or explore over the next five years.

“This plan aims to deliver continual improvement in local air quality and work towards the ambitious World Health Organisation guidelines for both nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. 

“The council’s Local Transport Plan and linked programmes including Transforming Cities and the Future Transport Zone are further contributing towards this goal as well as ambitions for decarbonisation.”