HARROGATE Borough Council is poised to finally move to address two air quality management areas in Ripon and Knaresborough more than a year after they were first diagnosed, amid warnings the soaring pollution levels could start to choke off the crucial visitor economy of both towns.
The Yorkshire Post has learned that council chiefs have agreed to start a major eight-week public consultation from March on how to drastically improve air quality at Bond End, Knaresborough, and Low Skellgate, Ripon, in advance of a submission of an action plan to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) by September.
Both air quality management areas - the first ever in the district since legislation came into force in 1995 - were established by the council in November 2010 due to unacceptably high levels of nitrogen dioxide breaching national guidelines.
Campaigners have welcomed the announcement and urged for major investment to now address the problems in both towns.
Simon Bowens, Yorkshire and Humber campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “One of the biggest problems for air quality is from transport fumes and we need to radically change this.
“Investment needs to come from Government and local authorities in tackling this problem by ending the culture of car dependency.
“We need to see more money going into sustainable forms of travel.
“Harrogate, Ripon and Knaresborough are all used widely as commuter belts for the big cities in the area.
“If we don’t move to address this problem it will begin to have an effect on tourist numbers.
“Tourists love these areas but if people are choked with traffic fumes then they will simply stop coming.
“Poor air quality from polluted roads poses major health risks to communities.
“Councils must prioritise funding for better public transport and schemes to boost walking and cycling that would cut traffic, slash air pollution and make residents healthier.”
Air quality has worsened in a number of black spots 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 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 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.
The proposed consultation for Ripon and Knaresborough will include presentations at both town’s libraries and markets, leaflets distributed to around 9,000 properties in the area and possibly to commuters living wider afield.
Coun Nick Brown, Harrogate Council cabinet member for public protection and rural affairs who agreed to push ahead with the consultation this week, said: “We are going to consult as widely as we possibly can to get the best possible feedback on this.”