Lack of money stops #Calderdale Council’s air pollution monitoring

Sowerby Bridge resident Andrew Marsden received some staggering news when he asked Calderdale Environmental Health for the Council’s most recent Air Quality Management Report.

Andrew asked for this Report in the light of news that Calderdale Council could face fines of up to £1m/day for air pollution that still exceeds legal limits in parts of the Upper Calder Valley and other areas in the Borough.

Andrew said,

“I was staggered to hear from Environmental Health that Calderdale is planning to stop its air pollution monitoring program by Dec 2014! How can they do this if the EU insists on the UK cutting pollution levels? On a positive note, the Air Quality Management Area Report shows pollution levels in Sowerby Bridge dropped in 2012, but they were still above the limits set by the EU.”

Senior Environmental Health Officer Ryan Carroll told Andrew,

“ In 2013 our air pollution monitoring network was much reduced. We expected to cease and we came very close to ceasing all air pollution measurement as at December 2013. Some capacity to monitor and to model still remains but all remaining passive and active measurement is presently expected to cease sometime no later than Dec 2014.

There is a 2014 Progress Report in draft, with data to December to 2013. The deadline for submission for approval to DEFRA is April. Once approved it should be published, subject to any necessary amendments DEFRA require (you will note the 2012 report was amended that August). It will feature the new & revised AQMAs and data where a monitoring capability still exists.

I can only advise that there is considerable uncertainty on the role that local measurement and local reporting will play in the future of air quality management and response to air quality issues in Calderdale.”

Council has no money for air pollution monitoring, so how can it improve air quality?

Calderdale Council is planning to stop monitoring air pollution because Environmental Health has had no budget for operating the equipment since February 2013.

They thought this meant they would have to stop all monitoring by March 2014. But they managed to find some funding to operate a smaller passive diffusion tube network for 1 year.

This has been a make-do-and-mend operation. They had to decommission one real-time monitor in 2013 to create spare parts for the others. They are about to decommission a second in the hope of keeping the other 2 machines running until September 2014, as long as there are no further breakdowns in this old equipment.

This has obvious implications for the Council’s ability to reduce air pollution, which it has a legal responsibility to do.

As already reported, the European Commission has recently taken legal action against the UK government for failing to reduce air pollution to the legal “limit values”  and will impose huge fines on the government if it doesn’t sort things out satisfactorily within two months. This is called “infraction proceedings”.

Senior Environmental Health Officer Ryan Carroll said that while the UK government has to reduce air pollution to withing the legal “limit values”,  local authorities only have to “ ‘act in pursuit of’ the numerically similar air quality objectives.”

Ryan Carroll said,

“The government empowered itself under the Localism Act 2011 to cascade fines it might incur from infraction proceedings to Local Authorities, deeming that LAs share in its responsibility to achieve Limit Values, and so should share in any fines.  It says it would act fairly if it did so. Passing on any fines would require an order from parliament, but otherwise we do not know how any local council will be assessed on whether or not it should be fined or the extent it would be fined.

In the meantime we can only try to act in certain ways to try to demonstrate that we are ‘in pursuit’ of the air quality objectives. I must stress that that is not something specific to Environmental Health but applies to the Council as a whole.

In 2013 DEFRA initiated a 2-year 2-stage consultation to revise the Local Air Quality Management regime. The results of the first stage were published, another round is due this Spring, with the final outcome expected in 2015. I can only say that I see significant uncertainty as to the future of the Local Air Quality Management role amongst local authorities and various local, national and international concerns only adds to that uncertainty.”

Cllr Adam WIlkinson is going to ask the next full Council meeting to discuss Calderdale Council’s failure to reduce air pollution to within legal limits.

New issues for air quality: Biomass combustion and reduction of planning policies relating to air quality

Two items in the April 2013 AQMA Report that struck me are:

  • biomass combustion is becoming an air pollution issue
  • with the introduction of the Local Development Framework, local planning policies relating to air quality were essentially set aside, leaving only Policy EP1 Protection of Air Quality.

EPI Protection of Air Quality says,

“Development which might cause air pollution (including that from modes of transport) will only be permitted if:-
i. it would not harm the health and safety of users of the site and surrounding area; and
ii. it would not harm the quality and enjoyment of the environment.

Where permission is granted, appropriate conditions and/or planning obligations will be attached to ensure that the air quality is maintained.”

Although paragraph 124 of the National Planning Policy Framework will take precedence when considering planning applications

NPPF 124 says,

“Planning policies should sustain compliance with and contribute towards EU limit values or national objectives for pollutants, taking into account the presence of Air Quality Management Areas and the cumulative impacts on air quality from individual sites in local areas. Planning decisions should ensure that any new development in Air Quality Management Areas is consistent with the local air quality action plan.”

West Yorkshire Low Emission Strategy Project

Over in Bradford, the Council adopted a Low Emission Strategy and a Low Emission Zone Feasibility Study in November 2013.

Here’s a slideshow presenting the basics of Bradford’s Low Emission Strategy and Low Emission Zone Feasibility Study

Doubtless if Calderdale Council had the money it could come up with a similar Low Emission Strategy and Low Emission Zone Feasibilty Study.

West Yorkshire Low Emission Strategy Project is working on a joint strategy which should be complete by the end of 2014. The ultimate aim of this work is that all the local authorities in West Yorkshire will adopt a joint West Yorkshire low emission strategy which will help improve air quality and health. This strategy will set out the policy changes that local authorities have made which will improve air quality.

But if local authorities haven’t got any money to monitor air pollution, let alone do anything to reduce it, how can they make policy changes?

Here is Calderdale Council’s 2013 Air Quality Management  Report

Here is a storify collection of tweets between residents and Councillors about the issue:

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