England’s smallest clean air charging zone could be brought in to help a Derbyshire town with the county’s worst pollution hotspot. At a Derbyshire Dales District Council meeting last night (February 9) councillors from all parties approved a plan backing a clean air charging zone for Ashbourne town centre.
There is a complex and lengthy process involving Derbyshire County Council and central Government, along with extensive public consultation, before a scheme like this is considered and potentially approved. A clean air charging zone would see vehicles with higher levels of emissions made to pay to drive through Ashbourne town centre.
Cllr David Hughes, who put forward the clean air zone plan, said the scheme would target the source of the majority of Ashbourne’s pollution issues: HGVs – primarily linked to the county’s quarrying industry. He said the scheme would charge diesel commercial vehicles and taxis that are not Euro 6 compliant (the latest restrictions for cleaner vehicles, emitting lower levels of nitrogen dioxide), with an exemption for registered keepers within the Ashbourne civil parish.
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Cllr Peter O’Brien said just under half of the UK’s HGVs were Euro 6 compliant and that the Euro 6 restrictions reduced emissions by 50 per cent. He said 95 per cent of HGV operators complied with Euro 6 in order to avoid paying clean air zone charges.
There are currently six clean air charging zones in England in Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth and Tyneside (Newcastle and Gateshead), with a zone in Greater Manchester under review and one in Sheffield to start from February 27 this year. A potential clean air zone for Ashbourne would be by far the smallest in the country if it makes it through the extensive public and Government approval processes.
At its worst point on Buxton Road, nitrogen dioxide has been recorded at 50 per cent higher than the deemed acceptable legal level. This is 57.4 µg/m3, over an accepted level of 40. At last night’s meeting, councillors pushed forward a potential clean air charging zone as a key interim measure to help mitigate air quality issues in the town, with the planned Ashbourne bypass still many years away from becoming a reality.
The clean air charging zone had not been part of the 11 “action plan” options drawn up by the district and county council, but was an addition on the night from a clearly concerned and irritated committee of councillors. Councillors also backed a second new measure, to bring in a 20mph zone in the town centre, aimed at reducing the amount of emissions created when vehicles accelerate more.
The county council said 20mph zones had been focused on areas with collision issues but now says a key aim is for areas with environmental issues – with the main aim of making areas generally better for pedestrians and cyclists. Throughout the evening’s meeting, councillors and members of the public spoke about the apparent lack of real impact presented in the proposed action plan which was supposed to tackle dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide, primarily on the Buxton Road hill.
There is a legal duty to tackle the issue and the council has been planning an action plan for nearly two years, with residents and councillors saying public health continues to be affected. Peter Dobbs, an air pollution campaigner, said the proposed plan “is a mess, hard to justify, impossible to quantify and very likely to be rejected by Defra and the people of Ashbourne”.
Read more: Plans to curb dangerous pollution in Ashbourne would have ‘no impact’
He said: “If you approve officer recommendations tonight (for the 11 measures) you will be sending a clear message to Ashbourne residents, that their health matters less than challenging the views of county highways.” Mr Dobbs said this because the 11 measures were largely ones put forward by the council, which it alone would be responsible for and many were part of existing plans it already had – not specifically targeted to quashing air pollution risks.
He said: “The pollution problem in Ashbourne is not going to go away without significant intervention. The level of nitrogen dioxide at the most polluted location is showing a small but steady rise, there is no evidence that the current actions before you on the list tonight will successfully reverse that trend. You are in the unenviable position of taking nearly two years to create a plan that will not work.”
Cllr Sue Moore, a member of Ashbourne Town Council, said: “We believe the proposals will do very little to actually mitigate the pollution problem. The proposals are probably well-meaning but which of them will actually address the poison that is in the streets of Ashbourne to any significant effect and in any urgent timescale?
“Your decisions are crucial to the health of our town and its visitors. The recent Levelling Up Fund award and its tight timescales for delivery now adds even more urgency to resolving this Air Quality Management Area problem swiftly.”
Dorsan Baker, who has lived on the Buxton Road hill for more than 10 years, said he had a family member who has now developed asthma. He said: “She now has problems with her chest that she never used to have.
“There is no question that the conditions on Buxton Hill have been getting worse over time, both from the amount of traffic and a feeling over the living conditions not being acceptable to many of the residents. Something has to be done other than simply wait for the relief road.
“We need the relief road, everyone acknowledges that but in the meantime something has to be done and we look to the councils to come up with something really meaningful and as you’ll hear tonight, many of us feel the suggested plan is not fit for purpose.” Nicholas Bishop, who has also lived on Buxton Road hill for 10 years, said the proposed plan “attempts to tick the boxes required of an action plan whilst failing to contest the colossal numbers of HGVs that illegally pollute Ashbourne and endanger residents’ health”.
He said: “The plan acknowledges that HGVs are the principle source of illegal emissions but it fails to advance any targeted measures that fix reductions in the numbers of HGVs that endlessly discharge pollutants throughout the town. Ashbourne councillors who commend this plan for public consultation will be charged with having abandoned the interests of Ashbourne residents and their inaction will provoke further public distrust in politicians.”
Cllr Simon Spencer, the county council’s deputy leader, insinuated that the issue of air quality in Ashbourne was being used as a “political football” – a view which was roundly rejected by district councillors. He said: “After 40 years of campaigning on this very issue to address the environmental damage to the town I find it quite absurd that we have some residents here tonight suggesting that the county council has made no effort to address the issues on the agenda tonight.
“I myself and many of my colleagues have invested many hundreds of thousands of pounds (of taxpayer money) in preparation of the work that is taking place to provide the relief road and we are further forward at this moment in time than we have ever been in the past. The measures proposed tonight are mitigation measures. They are not going to cure the issues that we face in the town of Ashbourne.
“The only solution for the issues that we face as a community is the provision of a relief road and that has always been my objective and we will work to that with a planning submission later this year.” Cllr Steve Wain said nitrogen dioxide readings had been increasing in Sturston Road and Station Street over last year, and were now just under legal limit.
He said: “We have a duty of care to these people and we should be informing them if it is likely to go over.” Cllr Hughes outlined that a proposed 20mph zone in Ashbourne would cover an area from Buxton Road south of Windmill Lane, the marketplace, Park Road, Belper Road between Park Road and Station Road, Station Road and St John’s Street and all roads between those routes and “perimeter roads”.
He said a clean air charging zone would “encourage owners of non-compliant vehicles to invest in newer, cleaner vehicles” with a “polluter pays” principle, hitting those who passed through Ashbourne “for transit” instead of those “providing economic benefit for the town”. Cllr Hughes said: “The principal objection appears to be that such zones have only been implemented in large cities, Bath being perhaps the smallest to implement one. Ashbourne is of course much smaller.
“Nevertheless, its residents are living every day with the pollution caused by through traffic. This traffic that does not benefit Ashbourne’s economy but is surely having an effect on residents’ health. As such, a resident in Ashbourne should have the same right to clean air as a resident of, say, Sheffield. Therefore, size shouldn’t matter.”
Cllr Garry Purdy, leader of the council, backed the plans for a clean air zone and 20mph zone, saying: “We are all concerned about this issue and that is why we have given our officer some grief and I don’t apologise for that, I think we should apply that pressure. Who knows where the next part is going to show exceeded limits.
“I think it is the right thing to do. I think it would be the wrong thing not to show the people of Ashbourne that we don’t support them.” He said he would leave it to council officers to work out the practicalities of implementing the schemes.
Cllr O’Brien said air pollution was having a “life-limiting impact on residents in Ashbourne”. He said: “We have a choice this evening, as a council, we have an action plan before us where we can hope that a random collection of measures such as lopping some trees, installing electric vehicle charging points for cars and encouraging people to use the bus will somehow be a silver bullet or a cure-all.
“Or we can look to incorporate a plan that develops actions that we know address the issue head on, the number of polluting HGVs. I don’t want to put a price on the cost of ensuring that every child in Ashbourne has the chance to lead a full and healthy life.
“The Government has a Clean Air Grant scheme, which provides funding for effective and practical measures to reduce air pollution, of which a clean air zone in Ashbourne is one. It is the responsibility of this council, this committee and every one of us here this evening to do whatever is necessary to remove the scourge of this pollution from the lives of the residents of Ashbourne.”
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