Warrington / Wigan Council’s actions
These are concerning Warrington, Leigh and Wigan town centres along with the Linkway in St Helens. One might expect large towns such as Warrington and Wigan to have an impact on air quality due to the traffic throughput on a daily basis. Newton Le Willows is one of the few places in the region where an air quality action plan is in place a smaller town. Newton Le Willows is also ostensibly a residential area with houses and schools. Unlike town centres and /or Linkway environments.
All three borough councils work together on air quality and (in theory) work in synergy on the collective impacts of traffic. However we in OLV believe this element is in its infancy and needs further development and better working relationships between the boroughs. As towns expand and develop and start to merge it is imperative we work better in this area.
St Helens Council – Management of Local Air Quality – Newton High Street & Southworth Road
Public Consultation – High Street & Southworth Road – Dec 2012
In late 2012 St Helens Council launched a public consultation exercise asking for people’s views and opinions on the matter from which it was said the council would produce an action plan. No doubt this was driven by the powers under the new 2012 Health Act and the regular responsibilities under the 1995 Environment Act.
The Council has suggested a number of possible solutions which we list below using the Council’s own wording.
- Investigate an acoustic/air quality barrier on the M6 flyover. Purpose to disperse emissions away from the AQMA area by increasing turbulence and disperse nitrogen oxides.
- Use hard shoulder running on the M6. Purpose to reduce congestion and lower emissions by increasing capacity and reducing queuing.
- Compulsory purchase of households on Southworth Road and Parkside Cottages.
- Traffic regulation on A49, Newton-le-Willows High Street. Purpose to restrict HGVs and thereby lower emissions from HGVs.
- Crack down on vehicle idling on A49. Purpose to lower emissions in AQMA.
- Optimize flows on key routes using SCOOT system (Split Cycle Offset Optimization Technique). Purpose to free congestion and reduce vehicle emissions.
- Travel awareness campaign. Purpose to encourage use of public transport, cycling and walking promotion and school travel planning.
- Freight quality partnership. Purpose to reduce emissions through better logistics and greener transport methods by working with freight companies in the Merseyside area..
- Green the Council fleet. Purpose to reduce emissions from Council vehicles and encourage eco-driving by staff.
- Green taxi fleet. Purpose to encourage change to vehicles in the Euro Class using the Council’s licensing powers.
- Supplementary planning guidance. Outline council policy on air quality as a material planning consideration and detail when an air quality assessment is required.
- Raise awareness of air quality by means of education in schools and the use of variable message signs.
The Council’s action plan states that the objectives are to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxides and improve the local air quality, thereby contributing to the health and well-being of the community; to raise awareness of air quality issues; to engage the community and to encourage people to use more sustainable methods of transport wherever possible. The action plan again confirms the majority of this pollution is caused by Heavy Duty Vehicles (HDVs) – heavy goods vehicles and buses- and that a small reduction in the numbers of these vehicles would have a significant impact on the levels of nitrogen dioxides.
Of the solutions listed previously, the compulsory purchase idea is rejected as impractical and too expensive. With regard to a barrier for the M6 flyover the Council is in discussion with the Highways Agency and a grant for an 80 metre barrier has been applied for. Active traffic management (variable speed limits, hard shoulder running) for this section of the M6 to smooth traffic flows is not in the Highways Agency’s current programme. For High Street the Council has the power to make traffic regulation orders which can prohibit or restrict certain types of vehicles but it is difficult to see where the restricted traffic would be diverted although there are alternative routes from the Earlestown trading estates, where most of this HGV traffic originates, to the M6 and A580 (East Lancs Road) which could be introduced and enforced.
With regard to vehicles parked with their engines running the local authority can issue fixed penalty notices but how often are traffic wardens or police community support officers who could do this observed in High Street? Optimising traffic flow can be done using traffic signals but as there are none in High Street this would not be effective here. As to getting people to change their habits, getting children to walk to school instead of being driven short distances and getting freight companies and taxi operators to purchase more modern “greener” vehicles, these objectives do not appear to be very practical (although the Council has claimed its new waste collection vehicles are “greener”).
For planning matters and new developments the Council states that their Environmental Protection and Planning Services “will ensure that air quality issues will be given due consideration and ensure that new developments will have adequate measures to mitigate air quality impacts. If mitigation is not possible it would outline compensation in line with the modified impact of the development to be spent on achieving the aims of the action plan. This may have an impact on types and numbers of developments within the St Helens region”. It is not clear what compensation means, whether monetary or some other means.
Given we are already at traffic saturation point any new developments need to be considered very carefully as to the health impacts on the local community. All the more so as the council now has a statutory responsibility for promoting public health- a role recently transferred from the NHS in the regulations under the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
The science on the impact of traffic borne pollutants is improving and the more science develops the more we are learning that the risk to health is greater than was thought a few years ago. Any Google search will reveal a huge amount of information on this topic.
This situation is compounded yet further by more rigorous controls on the standards on traffic borne air quality (driven via the EU) which is due to be operational from 2015.
So we have a situation where new housing & developments are driving increased traffic making the local situation ever more severe, tighter EU legislation in 2015, a local authority with new health responsibilities and emerging science which is telling us the risk is greater than was once thought. Clearly to excuse the pun, a toxic mix of variables.
This is an area local people need to keep a watch over particularly those who live in or around the air quality management area.