Council bosses say poor air quality is a significant public health issue in York, putting the health of its residents at risk and creating an unpleasant environment for visitors and there are fears pollution may damage the city’s historic buildings.
It is estimated the equivalent of between 94 and 163 people die prematurely in York each year due to the impact of air pollution and nationally it has been estimated that removing air pollution would have a bigger impact on life expectancy in England and Wales than eliminating passive smoking or road traffic accidents.
Now public talks are underway on a new draft blueprint which sets out how the authority intends to further tackle the issue in York with measures including cutting diesel emissions from buses, taxis and HGVs, measures to tackle pollution from queuing traffic and making use of new technologies.
Senior councillors have previously dubbed the problem the “invisible killer.”
Coun Dave Merrett, York Council’s cabinet member for environmental services, planning and sustainability, said yesterday: “Poor air quality is one of greatest challenges currently faced by York and indeed the UK.
“Like other local authorities York has an obligation to try and meet the health-based air quality objectives and improve public health outcomes. The new air quality action plan demonstrates how we can further reduce emissions in the city by utilising low emission vehicles and technologies.
“It is especially important to tackle diesel emissions. But, also some buses, HGVs and taxis - whilst providing essential services, unfortunately can contribute disproportionately to pollution levels in the city.”
However last night criticisms were made the proposals in the draft blueprint did not go far enough.
Green Party Councillor on the authority Coun Andy D’Agorne described the proposed plan as “a massive let down” and “weak and ineffectual.”
He said: “By only tackling high-frequency buses, other operators are being let of the hook. No-one is being made to clean up their act. We know that people are suffering and dying prematurely as a result of air pollution, yet the council is not even prepared to put up a few signs to tell drivers to turn off their engines whilst waiting.”
Support from the Government’s Green Bus Fund enabled York to become the first city in the north to introduce a fleet of electric buses to its Park and Ride service. It has also introduced a network of pay-as-you-go electric vehicle charging points.
Cash for fifteen electric buses has so far been received, which when the scheme is fully up and running will provide greener bus journeys and save over 7,500 tons of CO2 emissions in York over their lifespan.
Coun David Levene, cabinet member for transport, said it had commissioned a study showing around 80 per cent of bus services in York could run on electric because they operate in a largely urban area, making it easy to provide recharging facilities.
The consultation runs until January 2 2015. The draft plan can be viewed at www.york.gov.uk/consultations