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Is the new pollution policy really a breath of fresh air?

Northampton Borough Council is discussing a new policy on dealing with air quality issues in the town centre, here Lib Dem Environment Spokesperson Martin Sawyer gives his reaction and concerns…

The Borough Council has finally conceded to establish an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) around the Drapery and Northgate Bus Station and subsequently further committed to a proposal for a single (AQMA) across the town centre.

The Borough Council’s failure to monitor air quality on the Drapery and around Northgate Bus Station has been well documented in the local press over the last few years.

The first revelations being that air quality on the Drapery exceeded national legal limits 80% of the time during 2014 and 2015.

The council have a legal obligation under the Environment Act 1995 to establish an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), and monitor air quality, in an area where they expect the legal limits to be exceeded. They failed to do this.

20170912_113129A freedom of information request, sent in by the Northampton Liberal Democrats earlier this year, revealed that the council failed to monitor air quality on the Drapery and around Northgate Bus Station for the whole of 2016. The council have refused to confirm the reason for this failure.

The council now say that they are monitoring air quality in this area but are refusing to release the data, despite a further freedom of information request sent in by the Northampton Liberal Democrats. The reason given for not releasing the data is that they want to collect a full 12 months of data before publishing it. There is no legal requirement for the council to publish this data until they have a full 12 months data, but it is my contention that they have no legal right to withhold the unpublished data.

Many councils are very transparent and provide air quality data on their web sites, stating that the data is for information only and that the data has not been “ratified and bias adjusted”. Ratified and bias adjusted figures are available in the air quality Annual Status Reports (ASRs). The only ASR that I can find is dated 2014; I cannot find the most recent ones.

The council measures Nitrogen Dioxide using diffusion tubes; these are relatively cheap and easy to use. They are left in place for a month and then sent to a laboratory for analysis; the results are available in ten days.

Martin Sawyer with his air quality monitor

I have a hand held air quality monitoring device which measures particulate pollution (PM2.5 & PM10). I have measured air quality on the Drapery and around the Bus Station and I am concerned about the high level of particulate pollution in this area. I have also recorded very high levels at the junction of Abington Street and Lower Mounts, outside the Radio Northampton building.

I believe that Northampton Borough Council is deliberately suppressing air quality data to protect themselves against criticism over the Northgate Bus Station development and its impact on businesses on the Drapery. I am also concerned that they will continue to suppress data to avoid any complications with the proposed Greyfriars development and its potential future impact on air quality in the town centre.

Northampton Borough Council is putting the town’s residents health at risk by not publishing the air quality data and giving people the opportunity to make up their own minds if they want to visit the Drapery and the area around Northgate Bus Station. The high levels of air pollution in this area are potentially injurious to anyone with a respiratory condition, children and young adults are particularly at risk, and asthma sufferers should certainly avoid the area.

I am calling on the council to publish the data and admit to the scale of the air quality problem so that as a town we can move forwards, making the right decisions to ensure that air quality does not deteriorate further. Only by engaging with the people and businesses of Northampton will the council be able to meet national air quality objectives.

Northampton Borough Council statement:


Recommendations for a single town centre air quality management area (AQMA) are set to be discussed by Northampton Borough Council Cabinet on Wednesday September 13 (today).

The proposal for a town centre wide AQMA comes after monitoring identified higher levels of nitrogen dioxide at Northgate Bus Station, The Drapery, Abington Square and Wellingborough Road.

It is suggested that a more coordinated and holistic approach to tackling these levels could be achieved by joining these newly identified locations with current AQMA’s  in the central part of the town to make one single, town-centre-wide area.

On top of the increased air quality monitoring that the AQMA will bring, the Council is also bringing forward the implementation of a low emissions strategy.

The strategy will focus on promoting and supporting the use of low emission vehicles across the town, as well as investigating the creation of a Clean Air Zone in Northampton.

Clean Air Zones are generally declared in large cities, where congestion can cause wide spread air pollution. Although, this is not currently needed in Northampton, proactively implementing the programme in the town will promote best practice and help avoid wide spread issues in the future.

Cllr Mike Hallam, Cabinet member for environment, said: “Declaring a single AQMA in Northampton town centre is the most beneficial option to assist our plans for improving the air quality.

“The single area will mean we can tackle any issues in a joined-up manner and will avoid the potential pitfalls of moving problems around the town which adding more, smaller areas, could bring.

“Alongside this, we will be working with partners later this year to implement a borough-wide low emissions strategy. This will use policy changes and the introduction of initiatives, such as public charging points for electric cars, to encourage more individuals and companies to use low emission vehicles.”

I'm the editor and owner of The NeneQuirer.

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