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Simon Bedford, partner at Deloitte in the North West, discusses how the region can take advantage of the reduction in pollution during lockdown, and the measures businesses and individuals can put in place to build back better.
While there are very few positives to take from the global COVID-19 pandemic, the implications of lockdown on air pollution is certainly one. In the UK alone, the amount of nitrogen dioxide observed in the air had reduced by between 20 and 50 per cent as of May, highlighting the significant impact of the economic and social shutdown.
This trend is hardly isolated to the UK. China has seen air pollution in its cities fall by between 10 and 30 per cent, while levels in New York have nearly halved compared to the same time last year. This has had a huge impact on visibility in some locations: people in Punjab, India have been able to see the Himalayan mountains for the first time in decades, while wildlife has been returning to the Venice canals.
However, the most important thing to consider is how to retain this level of sustainability as we begin to return to work. The earliest warning signs have already started to emerge, with satellite imaging already identifying spikes in nitrous dioxide around urban centres like London and Manchester as lockdown begins to ease. Similarly, changes to consumer behaviour has also had an unintended consequence, with the rapid increase in fleet vehicles needed to satisfy demand for online deliveries.
Environmental considerations need to be at the forefront of our decision making when it comes to building back better. The pedestrianisation of many of Manchester’s busiest roads is a positive start, but we need to think bigger.
On a local level, government incentives must be put in place to encourage sustainable behaviour, as well as discourage old habits. This will prove especially crucial when managing the daily commute. Many global cities, including Berlin, Budapest and Bogota, have introduced pop-up cycle lanes, while French city Ile-de-France is negotiating a charter to stagger arrival and departure times for its workers. Manchester must find its own versions of these measures – recent stats show that 33 per cent of all journeys are now being made on foot or by bicycle, and this stat must not see a sharp fall as we return to working norms.
Ultimately, however, to build back better requires a step change in attitude and behaviour from every individual when it comes to being sustainable.
Simon leads the regions development business within the Development & Assurance group in Real Assets Advisory. With more than 25 years in practice Simon has advised on major regeneration and development projects across the UK and further afield. Simon’s Manchester-based team operates across the country on development viability, land acquisition, developer procurement and strategic development projects. Over a varied career Simon has worked in local government, for an urban development corporation and several private practices including Jones Lang LaSalle and Building Design Partnership. Prior to joining Deloitte in 2008 he was managing director of a 40 strong economic development and consulting business with offices across the UK. Simon is a specialist in development strategy and delivery. He has led a number of large-scale development advisory projects across the UK and led on developer procurement, particularly on behalf of Homes England and other public sector regeneration bodies.