A STUDY has revealed 12 places in Colchester are suffering from dangerously high levels of air pollution.

Research by environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth analysed council reports on nitrogen dioxide in the air.

The audit found 12 places in Colchester where the average level of nitrogen dioxide exceeded 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air in 2018, the latest year for which data is available.

The average must be below 40 to meet government air quality targets, the limit deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.

The worst offending location in the town is Mersea Road, where one section gave a reading of 52.4.

Osborne Street, the site of the town’s bus station, was also well above the safe limit at 51.5.

What are the 12 hotspots?

Here is the full list of areas in Colchester with more than 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air:

  • Mersea Road 21 - 52.4
  • Osborne Street - 51.5
  • Brook Street 28 - 50.5
  • Mersea Road 12 - 48.6
  • Lucy Lane North A12 - 47.6
  • Lucy Lane North Terala - 47.4
  • Brook Street 23 - 46.9
  • Mersea Road 9 - 42.9
  • Mersea Road 10 - 42.7
  • St Botolph's Street - 42.5
  • St John's Street - 42.3
  • East Street - 41.2

Why is air quality important?

According to the data Colchester is one of the most polluted town or cities in East Anglia.

Friends of the Earth says traffic and congestion is the leading cause of nitrogen dioxide pollution, which can inflame the lining of the lungs and reduce immunity to infections such as bronchitis.

Nationally, 1,360 sites failed to meet the 40 micrograms target in 2018.

The previous data, compiled using 2017 stats, found nine parts Colchester breached the safety target.

The data released last year can be found here.

Town centre Green councillor Mark Goacher described the data as “appalling” and called for a “transport revolution” in the town.


  • Green Party councillor Mark Goacher

“We know pollution exacerbates health problems and leads to thousands of deaths in the UK every year,” he said.

“If this was anything else it would be a national emergency but air pollution problems are swept under the carpet.”

"The ultimate problem is the volume of traffic.

“We need a transport revolution. Drivers need to be discouraged from making short journeys where they could walk or cycle.

"We could charge non-residential traffic in places like Brook St and Mersea Road and use the money raised to subsidise bus companies to buy electric buses.”

What is the council doing about it?

Colchester Council’s waste environment and transportation boss Martin Goss said the council had been working hard to tackle pollution since the figures were compiled.


  • The council's environment boss Martin Goss

He said: “It was encouraging to see Colchester ranked joint top performer in the Eastern Region and equal third most climate-friendly area in England and Wales, according to another report by Friends of the Earth last October.

"While studies continue to show there is no single solution to improving air quality, we recognise that pollution levels in some areas do remain stubbornly high and that we do need to continue to ensure that air quality improvements are considered and introduced at every opportunity.

"In October 2019, the council launched a two-year project to raise awareness of air quality issues in Colchester and encourage people to act.

“The project’s objectives are to reduce the numbers of vehicles on the road by increasing the number of people walking and cycling for short journeys, particularly through the Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and to encourage widespread take-up of ‘No Idling’ when vehicles are parked and stationary at junctions and traffic lights. 

“This will be achieved through a bottom-up approach, working closely with the community, partners and stakeholders to explore the issues around what causes air pollution, raise awareness of the health impacts of air pollution particularly from vehicles, instil a sense of personal responsibility and identify interventions and solutions to encourage personal action to reduce air pollution.”

A project team has been visiting residents, with 1,181 people responding to a survey to help shape the project.

Mr Goss added: “This data is currently being analysed and will inform our next steps.

“There are three AQMAs in place across the borough in areas where pollution exceeds national guidelines. Where an AQMA is identified, the council must develop an Air Quality Local Action Plan highlighting how they will improve air quality in the area.

“The council’s Air Quality Action Plan outlines the measures it will take to reduce concentrations of pollutants to within legal limits, thereby positively impacting on the health and quality-of-life of Colchester’s residents and visitors.”

What will the Air Quality Action Plan include?

• Continued partnership working with bus, taxi and goods-vehicle operators, to reduce emissions from their fleets: including the replacement of older polluting vehicles sooner, improved fuel efficiency, and switching to cleaner fuels or fitting emission-reduction technology. To date the council, both individually and in partnership, has secured grant funding to retrofit 40 buses which serve the town centre with SCRT Technology to operate at Euro VI standard.

• An air quality forecasting service and alert system, airTEXT: to provide information to residents, healthcare providers and local businesses.

• Looking at planning policy to ensure new developments incorporate low-emission technology, including electric charging points for vehicles, and making provision for essential journeys to work, healthcare and leisure activity by walking, cycling and sustainable low-emission methods of transport.”