Blackspot city calls for culture shift to cut car fumes death toll

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SENIOR politicians have warned that a dramatic culture shift is needed to cut car use and tackle congestion in one of the UK’s fastest growing cities after air pollution has been linked to scores of deaths every year.

Grave concerns have been expressed over air quality in York despite ongoing attempts to tackle pollution blackspots on the city’s roads network as car fumes from traffic tailbacks have contributed to levels of nitrogen dioxide.

York was named as the UK’s second-fastest growing city after Milton Keynes earlier in the year and its population has now broken the 200,000 mark, prompting fears over the under-pressure transport infrastructure. The politician responsible for overseeing York’s transport policies, Coun Dave Merrett, has admitted a major reduction in car use is needed to help reduce congestion and air pollution.

The Yorkshire Post revealed last year that pollution had been linked to an estimated 158 premature deaths in York every year. Official figures also revealed the city’s average levels of nitrogen dioxide during 2009 exceeded targets set by both the council and the Government and stood at their highest point for seven years.

Coun Merrett, who is York Council’s cabinet member for city strategy, stressed he hoped car use would be cut by five per cent in the next three years amid attempts to promote alternative modes of transport, including walking, cycling and buses.

He added: “We are working towards a significant shift in transport use in York, which is vital to addressing traffic congestion and air quality. It will obviously not happen overnight and we need the support and active involvement of York’s residents.

“But we are aware that something needs to be done, and the problems do need to be tackled now. York is growing at a fast rate, and we need to make sure that the transport network is able to cope.”

Talks are already under way between the council and bus operators as well as taxi and private hire firms to introduce lower emission vehicles. Coun Merrett also revealed a bid is being prepared to secure cash for York under the Government’s new £50m Better Bus Area Fund.

But Green councillors voiced concerns the Labour administration is too focused on attracting new enterprise to sow the seeds of economic recovery in the wake of the recession. The leader of the council’s Green group, Coun Andy D’Agorne, claimed more needs to be done to bolster transport services to cope with York’s rapidly expanding population which has now reached 202,450 residents – an increase of 3,660 people, or almost two per cent, since 2009.

Major developments including housing schemes at Derwenthorpe and Germany Beck as well as the planned regeneration of one of England’s largest brownfield sites, York Central, around the city’s railway station are all due to compound the pressures on the transport infrastructure.

Coun D’Agorne said: “I acknowledge that there is not an easy solution, but more needs to be done to increase alternative modes of transport like cycling or walking. The need to tackle congestion and air pollution is one of the most pressing issues we face in York.”

It emerged earlier this month that a revolutionary freight interchange is being considered to prevent lorries heading into the city centre, with a fleet of electrically-powered vehicles employed to make deliveries and reduce congestion.

Other proposed measures to bolster city centre retail and tackle congestion include lower speed limits, an extension of York’s central pedestrianised zone and tougher action against motorists who flout traffic regulations.