Residents living in Yorkshire’s most polluted village are desperate for a solution - but fear their problems may soon get even worse with HS2 on the horizon. Chris Burn reports.
Mick Kynman had been working as a postman in Hickleton for a few months when he started to notice an impact on his health. In last summer’s hot temperatures, he developed chest problems he believes were connected to breathing in the air pollution that plagues the village.
“With it being so hot, you could feel the fumes in the air,” he explains in the village hall as lorries and cars thunder past on the major A-road which divides the otherwise picture-postcard Hickleton – recently named as the most polluted village in Yorkshire. “I ended up with a chest infection.”
Kynman has currently got another chest infection and says he believes it may also be connected the pollution levels in the South Yorkshire village, which sits between Doncaster and Barnsley and has the A635 running through it. A 2016 traffic census shows the village of around 300 people has more than 20,000 vehicles passing through it each day – almost 3,000 of which are lorries travelling to and from warehouses and industrial estates on the outskirts of Barnsley.
“Sometimes you can be stood at the side of the road for 15 minutes waiting to cross because there is so much traffic,” Kynman says. “If there is an accident, as there was the other week, you can be stuck in traffic on your way for two hours. With houses on both sides of the road and no pedestrian crossing, everything is based on dodging traffic.”
While Kynman says he can’t be certain his chest infections are directly connected to air pollution, recent research has found that even short-term increases in air pollution are linked to a higher risk of developing viral chest infections which can eventually develop into more serious conditions such as bronchiolitis. High levels of nitrogen dioxide linked to road traffic emissions are also known to potentially cause flare-ups of asthma or symptoms such as coughing and breathing difficulties.
Last month, a Friends of the Earth study revealed Hickleton has two of the worst three places in the whole of Yorkshire for poor air quality – behind only a busy road tunnel close to Leeds railway station in top spot. While the legal maximum for nitrogen dioxide is set at 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air – two areas in the village, Fir Tree Close and John O’Gaunts, are recording at more than double this level with 96ug/m3 and 87ug/m3 respectively.
When The Yorkshire Post pays a visit, concerned residents who line up to express their unhappiness at the situation are keen to point out this is very far from a new situation. Richard Clark, chair of the Hickleton Bypass Action Group which is calling for a new relief road to be built to ease traffic problems, says residents have uncovered records of calls for an additional road missing out the village being made to Lord Halifax, who lived in Hickleton Hall, back in 1901.
Clark says more serious demands for a bypass that would connect the M1 at Barnsley to the A1 at Doncaster were made back in the 1980s and listed as a Doncaster Council priority project in the 1990s. However, while Barnsley Council went ahead with the building of the Dearne Valley Parkway as a way of economically regenerating the area after pit closures through encouraging businesses to open warehouses and distribution centres, the Doncaster section of the work never went ahead.
With businesses such as online clothing giant ASOS and supermarket Aldi opening major premises on the Barnsley side of the village in recent years, it has contributed to a major increase in traffic through Hickleton and the neighbouring village of Marr.
While Doncaster Council designated Hickleton as an Air Quality Management Area back in 2014 and the authority’s draft Local Plan document outlining planned projects for coming years lists a potential bypass as a priority, back in November Mayor Ros Jones said the estimated £40m cost of the new road and a lack of funding partners meant “it is not likely the scheme would be seriously considered in the near or medium-term future”.
Clark says: “They have said there is no economic payback. But it is a safety issue. You have got families who live along the front of the road and the nitrogen dioxide is affecting the young and the old.”
Another concern of the residents is the sheer number of road accidents that have been taking place in the village in and around the narrow stretch of main road that runs through it. When The Yorkshire Post visits, police tape is still set out around a damaged wall and crucifix which were hit last September and Clark has compiled a list of 11 significant accidents that have occurred in the past 12 months, resulting in damage to buildings and walls and in several cases, major injuries. In January 2018, a motorcyclist died in a crash on the outskirts of the village, following the death of an 18-year-old driver in April 2017.
Lynette Howard says she has become known in the village as ‘the woman with the wall’ because of the number of times vehicles have crashed into the front part of her property. “We have even had cars going into the garden,” she says.
Residents re-formed the Bypass Action Group last year when it became clear that the HS2 high-speed railway line is due to be passing close to the village, cutting through the local golf course and involving an engineering compound being set up for five years on the outskirts of the village to facilitate the construction of three rail bridges over the A635. With construction due to start in late 2024, villagers see HS2’s forthcoming arrival as both an ideal opportunity to build the bypass – but fear that if it doesn’t happen congestion and pollution problems will get even worse.
HS2’s own environmental report highlights Hickleton’s existing pollution problems and notes its work may lead to “changes in accident risk” and that the presence of workers is likely to be “noticeable”, with construction vehicles using local roads. But it adds officials are engaging with local highway bosses on potential “traffic and transport mitigation measures”.
But while Doncaster Council insists it is “proactively” looking to build a bypass, it admits there is no timetable for the work to take place and the economic case is yet to be proven. For now, there appears no end in sight to Hickleton’s misery.
Judith Lane, who has lived in Hickleton since 1945, says: “It is destroying the village. We have tried for a bypass for so many years and I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.”
Julie Golze, who moved to Hickleton with her young family four years ago, says: “We moved here because we wanted our children to grow up in a village environment and the community are just fantastic. But when you have children, there is concern not just about pollution levels but also about safety. There is no pedestrian crossing and it is so difficult even for adults to get across.
“Sometimes at night, I hear a screech of brakes and I hold my breath because I worry something is going to come hurtling into our house. We live in a conservation area and the houses are so lovely. But it seems that we are the village that Doncaster has forgotten about.”
Council ‘wants bypass’ - but can’t give timetable
Doncaster Council says it does want to build a bypass for the village – but warns doing so would not resolve air pollution problems.
Councillor Chris McGuinness, Cabinet Member for Environment, says: “The Hickleton/Marr bypass is an important road scheme we are proactively looking to deliver. We have included it as a future scheme in the Local Plan and are continuing to seek funding for the project. It would need a new scheme in terms of route alignment due to the planned HS2 route near Hickleton and we would look to deliver it jointly with Barnsley.
“However, it is important to recognise that road building simply moves the issue of air pollution and in the longer term encourages increased car use. Monitoring in and around Hickleton shows much of the village complies with the air quality objectives but a small number of locations do record high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide hence the designated Air Quality Management Area.
“We have plans to extend monitoring in the village and are developing measures to include in the current Air Quality Action Plan which will specifically target emissions in Hickleton. We will be working with the residents when drawing up these plans.
“There have been preliminary discussions regarding an air quality assessment for HS2 but we have not yet received this and are unable to comment further until this information has been received.”
When asked by The Yorkshire Post when the bypass could be built by under the Local Plan proposals, a spokesman for Doncaster Council said: “There is currently no timetable for Local growth funding. When funding does become available we will still need to provide a robust, compelling economic business case for the scheme proving a good benefit to cost.”
HS2 did not respond to a request for comment.
Video by Bruce Rollinson and David Clay