Monday, 3 March 2014

Rising Air Pollution in Central Sunderland

I was recently asked by Wearside LibDems to find out about air pollution in the area around the new/planned Strategic Transport Corridor, to see how it would affect Millfield residents in particular. The planned route passes from Pallion, along Trimdon Street, and onto St Mary's Way, headed towards the Port area.

Why are we so concerned? Because there is convincing evidence that exposure to nitrogen dioxide can cause problems ranging from the worsening of asthma, to an increased risk of heart attack, and the harm increases with the degree of exposure. The main source of this pollution is exhaust fumes from vehicles.
The EU legal limit for nitrogen dioxide is 40 µg/m3.

Sunderland has been monitoring air pollution levels for many years, with 130 locations, using two main types of monitoring station. This one is at the bottom of Trimdon Street.

This one is on North Bridge Street, near the Wheatsheaf, and uses tubes to capture evidence for pollution.

Here are the results collated from three council documents; air-quality reports from 2009, 2011 and 2012. The results for 2010 may have been lost by the council due to their "IT error."

Sunderland City Council Local Air Quality Management Updating and Screening Assessment April 2009

Sunderland City Council Local Air Quality Management Progress Report 2011

Sunderland City Council Local Air Quality Management Updating and Screening Assessment April 2012

No-one seems to have collated this information so I had to do some original research. Although I could have chosen to look at lots of monitoring stations, I chose eleven in the vicinity of the Strategic Transport Corridor and the City Centre. Here are the council's own nitrogen dioxide results.

The results show that in 8 out of the 11 locations, the detection apparatus is showing small rises in the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air. I believe that this is due to the volume of traffic increasing on our roads. Holmeside shows a drop in pollutants, possibly due to the change in the road network so that some traffic is now prohibited from travelling along the full length of the road.Hmm. Traffic corridors do work!

At some locations, the air pollution now exceeds the EU regulatory limit! One can only hypothesise how a large extra volume of traffic will affect these areas, but Trimdon Street, for example, is very close to the legal limit at the moment, and this must be a cause for concern.

This was the pollution map produced by the council back in 2005, when the city was very much more active in promoting a clean air approach, and one of the reasons they situated their main monitoring station on Trimdon Street. How much worse might it get with extra traffic on the roads.? Although we are now getting some special, low emission buses, funded by the EU, what about extra freight traffic to the port?

For some reason, although most councils in England set up an Air Quality Management Area if they had readings over the legal limit of 40 µg/m3, Sunderland didnt! A couple of hot spots don't matter?

In the Sunderland part of the Local Transport  Tyne and Wear action plan was this little gem:- " The impacts of SSTC will reduce problems at the two air quality ‘hot spots’ within the city. Without the SSTC, air quality is likely to significantly deteriorate."

Er, Right.

In the Air pollution chapter it did say:-

Local planning teams, in recognising air quality as a material planning consideration for individual planning applications, will pay particular attention to developments that may generate increased road traffic, and developments within areas of poor air quality. Specific consideration will be given to locations where:-
•    Development(s) will result in increased congestion, a change in either traffic volumes (for example a 5% AADT or peak) or a change in vehicle speed (+/-10 kph) or both on a road with greater than 10 000 vpd:
•    Proposals would significantly alter the traffic composition in an area (e.g. bus stations, HGV parks, increased delivery traffic);

I would love to consult the documents the council produced at considerable expense when they did an environmental survey of their STC project, but they've been removed from the Internet and even the usual archive sources came up blank, except for this one reference which tells me it exists:-

Council report
"We have carried out a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Statement of the issues associated with the construction of the new Wear bridge. For ease of reading, the document is split here into volumes.
Vol 3:
Appendix E Noise Assessment Technical Appendix
Appendix F Air Quality Assessment Technical Appendix"

What does the Government say?

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)2 was published on 27th March 2012 and
sets out the Government's core policies and principles with respect to land use planning,
including air quality. The document includes the following considerations which are relevant
to this assessment:

"The planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local
environment by: […]

Preventing both new and existing development from contributing to or being put at
unacceptable risk from, or being adversely affected by unacceptable levels of soil, air,
water or noise pollution or land instability"

"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."

The saga is ongoing. I think I'll put in a request to see the predicted air quality assessments for the STC.

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