AtkinsRéalis with Portsmouth City Council

Sustainability Award

In 2019, a Public Health England (PHE) report estimated that between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year in the UK are attributed to long-term exposure to poor air quality, notably Nitrogen Dioxide. Any death is sad, but the tragic case of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, the first person in the UK whose cause of death is listed as air pollution, must never be forgotten.

At Atkins, we strive to engineer a better future for our planet and its people. Our people create and promote sustainable solutions for our clients which help to make communities cleaner and safer to live in – for us, green issues are personal as well as professional. Working with Portsmouth City Council (PCC), we brought this commitment to life by developing and delivering its Clean Air Zone (CAZ). These zones, introduced as part of the UK Government’s broader package to improve air quality across the UK, designate areas in cities and towns that require high-emitting vehicles to pay a charge, deterring drivers from entering, and accelerating improvements in air quality. Customised to reflect the location in which they operate, their goal is to encourage travel behaviour change and a shift to public transport, walking and cycling.

PCC wanted to be the forefront of efforts to protect its citizens, but did not have the capacity or expertise to deal with Government CAZ requirements within the short timeframes demanded, and approached Atkins for specialist help to implement a Class B zone in the city from concept to delivery.

To successfully deliver the CAZ, Portsmouth needed a strategy that would win over the hearts and minds of residents – many of whom had concerns around reliance on vehicles, trading routes, and city centre footfall. To get buy-in from such diverse stakeholders, we had to ensure that the development of the business case, business processes, systems architecture, testing, and launch all integrated seamlessly.

Quickly turning around a service design document to meet the Government’s deadline, we produced a systems’ interface tool that allowed the many internal stakeholders within PCC to understand how the new scheme would work, and where and how their roles aligned, and engaged with teams to understand their ways of working and how the new CAZ responsibilities (including testing) could fit into their workload. We built good relationships with PCC, the Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) and partners in Yunex Traffic/Siemens, Turner & Townsend, Informed Solutions, DVLA, DfT, Defra, and Conduent, enabling effective, cohesive and smart working.

Through laying the administrative foundations, tactfully managing a challenging stakeholder community, delivering agile project management, and developing close relationships with the client we saw the CAZ successfully launched on time in November 2021 and now boosting health and wellbeing in the city. We are proud that our approach is now seen as the template for other schemes in the UK to follow, and that we are helping to make our cities more sustainable and safer places in which to live.

View the Atkins profile in the MCA Members Directory.