New ‘clean transport’ call after spa town air pollution discovery

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THE first ever air quality management area is set to be announced in a town in North Yorkshire, with environmentalists warning an ever-increasing reliance on cars is leading to soaring pollution problems in even the region’s most picturesque towns.

Harrogate Borough Council has discovered unacceptably high levels of nitrogen dioxide breaching national guidelines at the junction of Wetherby Road and Hookstone Chase, in its latest assessment which it is required to carry out every three years.

The find comes less than two years after air quality management areas were established at Bond End, Knaresborough, and Low Skellgate, Ripon – the first in the district since legislation came into force in 1995.

The latest survey also raises concerns about pollution levels at York Place, in Knaresborough, and calls for further testing.

Harrogate Borough Council chiefs are set to submit a letter to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), asking that the naming of the latest air quality management area is delayed, as proposed construction works at the area may reduce the concentration of nitrogen dioxide present.

But campaigners are now calling for urgent action to address the problem in Yorkshire’s towns and cities. Simon Bowens, regional campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “Poor air quality is not just confined to the UK’s biggest cities.

“It is now spreading to the region’s smaller towns like Harrogate affecting the health and quality of life of thousands of people every year.

“Local authorities must come clean about the problem and take urgent steps to tackle this killer pollution.

“It’s not just an environmental problem, it’s a social and an economic problem too.

“As people’s health deteriorates as a result of worsening air quality and the increase in related conditions like asthma, the cost to
the NHS shoots through the
roof.

“And for towns heavily reliant on tourism for their economic health, it’s a real problem as visitors do not want to come to places with poor air quality.

“It’s time to tackle the root of the problem – too much dirty traffic – by investing in cleaner alternatives such as cycling and public transport.

“Promoting smarter travel by providing a real option for motorists to leave the car at home need not cost millions but will reap huge benefits in improved health, safer communities and a cleaner environment.”

Air quality has worsened in a number of blackspots across North Yorkshire in recent years, with York Council chiefs recently warning a dramatic culture shift is needed to cut car use and tackle congestion.

The Yorkshire Post revealed in 2009 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.

York has been named as the UK’s second-fastest growing city after Milton Keynes and its population has now broken the 200,000 mark, prompting fears over the under-pressure transport infrastructure.

Harrogate’s main source of pollutants, which are likely to have an effect on air quality objectives, is the road network, which includes the A1(M) motorway, A1 dual carriageway and a small part of the A168 dual carriageway.

Other sources include agricultural activities and a number of industrial installations and waste facilities.

Earlier this year, the council launched an eight-week consultation on how to address the issues in Knaresborough and Ripon, with leaflets distributed to around 9,000 properties in the area.

An action plan is due to be submitted to Defra in September.