The Lord Mayor of Cork has declared a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in the heart of Cork city centre – the first such designation in an Irish city.
Cork’s Clean Air Zone includes Oliver Plunkett Street and adjacent streets. Oliver Plunkett Street won the Academy of Urbanism’s internationally-acclaimed “The Great Street Award” six years ago, having been pedestrianised 11 years previous. Last year, another 17 of Cork city’s streets were permanently pedestrianised.
As part of the CAZ activity programme, five air monitors are to be placed on the east and west end of Oliver Plunkett Street, on Grand Parade, St Patrick’s St and South Mall by the start of June. These will measure nitrogen oxides (NOx), ozone and particulate matter over time. NOx is a specific measure of pollution attributable to petrol or diesel engines.
Cork City Council has partnered with Cork Healthy Cities, and ERI researchers in both the Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry (CRAC) and UCC’s School of Applied Psychology, as well as Cork Chamber of Commerce and Cork Business Association to declare the CAZ. The CAZ is just a starting point for this partnership which will see the development of a Play Street in the area and schools-based initiatives to raise awareness.
Lord Mayor, Cllr Colm Kelleher said: ‘‘This Clean Air Zone is another step in making Cork a healthier, more sustainable city. Our vision for Cork’s Clean Air Zone is that it will improve the urban environment to support public health and the local economy, making Cork a more attractive place to live, work, and spend leisure time’’.
The rollout of the Clean Air Zone is led by Dr Kevin Ryan, Executive Scientist with Cork City Council.
Dr Ryan explained that a Clean Air Zone is an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality, specifically by reducing major sources of pollution. “Clean Air Zones address numerous types of pollution, including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. Tailored measures to improve air quality will reduce public exposure to these harmful pollutants” he said.
To mark the occasion, Cork City Council commissioned Cork-based artist, Kevin O’Brien to create an artwork depicting different aspects of air quality in the city.
Dr Dean Venables from ERI’s Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry welcomed the initiative saying that air pollution causes 1,300 premature deaths every year in Ireland. “Cork’s Clean Air Zone is a major milestone for the city”, he said. “Air pollution is often worst near roads because vehicles are a major source of particles and nitrogen oxides. Pedestrianising this area will result in cleaner air and less traffic noise”.
Denise Cahill, Cork Healthy Cities Co-ordinator said: “We aim to show that improving air quality and reducing the noise and threat from traffic makes the whole space better for everyone, especially for children and the elderly. It’s already a success! Oliver Plunkett and surrounding streets are always buzzing with people because the area feels safe and welcoming to young and old alike.”
Cork Chamber CEO, Conor Healy said: "Cork City Council is to be commended for bringing Ireland’s first Local Authority Air Quality Strategy 2021 – 2026 to life. Clean air is inextricably linked to the vitality of Cork city as place to do business, live, work, shop and visit. This exemplar for air quality monitoring and evaluation works on two fronts – it supports citizens and businesses to understand air pollution and help mitigate its impacts, but critically it also strengthens Cork's place as a sustainable and international city of repute.’’
ERI Researchers collaborated with Cork City Council to complete two preliminary studies on attitudes towards air quality among households and schools in Cork last year and in 2020. The results suggest that there is some level of concern about air quality in Cork, However, there seems to be limited awareness of the sources of air pollutants and therefore additional guidance and education is required around behavioural solutions that can be easily implemented at individual, household, or school level.
Author of the study, Dr Marica Cassarino from the ERI and UCC’s School of Applied Psychology said: “If we want to achieve low emissions and a healthy environment, it is crucial that we raise people’s awareness of the importance of good air quality and that we engage with the public to enable positive behavioural change. Cork’s Clean Air Zone will stimulate our community to think about the solutions needed to promote air quality for the health of people and the environment”.
The Clean Air Zone is a continuation of Cork City Council’s innovative air quality programme, which includes developing Ireland’s first Local Authority Air Quality Strategy and rolling out an extensive district scale, air monitoring sensor network across the city. The development of this Clean Air Zone is an important initiative in the city’s integrated and ambitious environmental agenda to deliver a clean, healthy and sustainable city.
The air quality studies and additional information on air quality related matters are available on Cork City Council’s website (www.corkcity.ie).