Campaigners for sustainable transport in the Upper Calder Valley have welcomed news of
the European Commission’s (EC) recent legal proceedings against the UK government, for
its failure to cut excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
In Hebden Bridge, legal NO2 limits are regularly exceeded along the A646 from Bankfoot Terrace to Station Road.
The EC said the UK has broken commitments and now faces fines in the hundreds of millions of pounds.
European legislation sets limits on air pollution and the UK government should have met
NO2 limits by January 2010, unless it gained an extension until January 2015 by showing that a credible and workable plan would be in place by then.
“The UK has not presented any such plan for the zones in question,”
an EC statement said.
The UK has two months to respond.
As West Yorkshire Low Emission Strategy Manager and formerly Pollution Control Officer at Bradford Council, Blackshawhead resident Sally Jones works on improving the air quality in West Yorkshire. Sally commented,
“The localism bill has provision in it to pass these fines down to ‘responsible’ authorities, with an estimated £1m/day fine this now poses a real risk for local budgets, that’s without considering all the life years lost, deaths and poor quality of life this problem causes!”
Most NO2 originates in traffic fumes, and West Yorkshire has the fourth-worst air quality
in the UK, with many areas where traffic pollution is so bad that air quality standards
fail to meet the legal objectives. These areas are called Air Quality Management Areas.
They exist in all five West Yorkshire local authorities.
One Air Quality Management Area is in Hebden Bridge along the A646 from Bankfoot Terrace to Station Road, covering a big bit of the town centre and several residential areas.
Myra James of Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group said,
“Ten times as many deaths are attributable to air pollution than to road traffic collisions, which should be a national scandal. And now we learn that the government faces fines for its failure to take action to address poor air quality. Major investment in public transport and active travel modes is an urgent priority. We need government to demonstrate the political will to take up the challenge”
Air quality improvement plans estimate it will take until 2020 to meet EU standards in
the Upper Calder Valley, and many other areas. This is what the UK Supreme Court said, when it acknowledged that air pollution limits are regularly exceeded in 16 zones across the UK.
As well as the Hebden Bridge Air Quality Management Area, there are three other areas in Upper Calder Valley where NO2 limits are regularly above legal limits. The Copley Valley has Air Quality Management Areas at each end of the valley, one at Salterhebble and the other at Bolton Brow. The fourth Upper Calder Valley AQMA is in Luddenfoot.
Adam Wilkinson, Calderdale Councillor for Sowerby Bridge, said
“I will raise this at the next full Council meeting. This is the first I’ve heard of the fines but I’m well aware of the Air Quality Management issues on Bolton Brow & I’ve consistently raised the fact that the Copley Valley project will make this worse. There are plans for 800+ new houses in the Sowerby Bridge area over the next 20 years (see Local Plan). How will the roads cope when they can’t cope with the current number of inhabitants?”
Calderdale Council website has information about AQMAs in Calderdale, but doesn’t say anything about how the Council plans to clean up the air in these areas. It just says the Council is assessing the problem further, and:
“The Council’s Highways Services and Environmental Health Services are working together to develop the action plans for Calderdale’s AQMAs, because much of the nitrogen dioxide pollution in these areas is produced by road traffic.”
It sounds as if they have two months to complete these action plans, which will need to reduce NO2 levels to within legal limits within the European Commission’s tight deadline.
The 16 UK zones that regularly exceed legal air pollution limits are Greater London, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Teesside, the Potteries, Hull, Southampton, Glasgow, the East, the South East, the East Midlands, Merseyside, Yorkshire & Humberside, the West Midlands, and the North East.
The UK Supreme Court noted that air quality improvement plans estimate that London will only meet EU standards by 2025, fifteen years after the original deadline, and the other 15 zones will take until 2020. Nitrogen oxides like Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) are a key component in increased levels of ground-level ozone, which causes major respiratory problems and leads to premature death.
Nitrogen oxides also cause acid rain, which damages plant and animal life in forests,
lakes and rivers, and harms buildings and historical sites. They can also cause
eutrophication, when an excess of nutrients such as nitrogen oxides and ammonia threatens biodiversity through the excessive growth of plants like algae.
More info about Calderdale AQMAs is on Calderdale Council website.
Updated 10 March 2014 with comment from Sally Jones, and headline changed accordingly, from “UK government faces six figure fine for air pollution…
Updated 11 March with info about Air Quality Management Areas in Copley Valley and Luddenfoot, Cllr Adam Wilkinson’s comment, and info about Calderdale Council’s assessment of AQMAs in the area.