News article

Britain’s high streets record air pollution levels above World Health Organisation limits

The majority of Britain’s biggest and busiest high streets have air pollution levels above the World Health Organisation annual recommendations.

That’s according to a new study by GRIDSERVE of air quality in 25 cities and towns across the UK, ahead of the biggest shopping weeks of the year.

It means the millions of people heading to the nation’s high streets to do their Christmas presents could face higher than recommended levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) – that’s everything in the air that’s not gas and consists of many chemical compounds and materials.

Concerns over town centre air quality is actually putting some people off visiting high streets to do Christmas shopping, with a GRIDSERVE survey revealing one in 10 are switching to online shopping to avoid high street pollution, while one in 10 actively avoid areas of high traffic.

GRIDSERVE conducted air pollution spot checks in 25 towns and cities across Britain over a two-week period, using an air quality measuring device. You can find out more about the science here.

It found 76% of Britain’s high streets may exceed the 5 µg/m3 (that’s micrograms per cubic meter air) PM2.5 limit specified by the World Health Organisation. PM2.5s are potentially harmful because of their small size, which means they can enter the bloodstream and cause illnesses such as asthma, heart disease and lung cancer.

Only six of the 25 high streets in the study recorded an average reading of 5 µg/m3 or lower, with the national average found to be 7.2 µg/m3. Stoke-on-Trent had the highest average level of PM2.5 in the air (11.7 µg/m3), followed by Newcastle (11.5 µg/m3) and Leicester (11.2 µg/m3). Newcastle also registered the highest single reading of 20.5.

Scotland, which was the first country in Europe to adopt the WHO recommended PM2.5 limit in 2016, is first and second in the air quality index, with Glasgow (2.2 µg/m3) followed by Edinburgh (2.7).

Britain’s high streets air quality (average PM2.5 score)

  1. Glasgow (Buchanan Street) – 2.2
  2. Edinburgh (Princes Street) – 2.7
  3. Reading (Broad Street) – 4.1
  4. Cardiff (St Mary Street) – 4.7
  5. Bristol (Broadmead) – 4.7
  6. Plymouth (New George Street) – 5
  7. Portsmouth (Commercial Road) – 5.1
  8. Leeds (Briggate) – 5.3
  9. Brighton (Western Road) – 5.6
  10. Sheffield (Fargate) – 6.3
  11. London (Oxford Street) – 6.8
  12. Derby (St Peter’s Street) – 6.9
  13. Liverpool (Church Street) – 7.1
  14. Birmingham New Street – 7.3
  15. Northampton (Abington Street) – 7.3
  16. Manchester (Market Street) – 7.6
  17. Luton (George Street) – 7.6
  18. Nottingham (High Street) – 7.7
  19. Southampton (Above Bar Street) – 8.8
  20. Bradford (Broadway) – 10.6
  21. Hull (Jameston Street) – 10.7
  22. Coventry (West Orchards Way) – 11.1
  23. Leicester (Gallowtree Gate) – 11.2
  24. Newcastle (Northumberland Street) – 11.5
  25. Stoke-On-Trent (Parliament Street) – 11.7