16 August 2017
Air pollution in Hitchin
summary and criticism of the recent Air Quality Action Plan, an NHDC Report
by DJ/DS for the North Herts and Stevenage Green Party, August 2017
NH&S GP North Herts and Stevenage Green Party
NHDC North Herts District Council
NO Nitrogen monoxide
NO2 Nitrogen dioxide
NOx Nitrogen monoxide plus nitrogen dioxide
AQMA Air Quality Management Area
AQAP Air Quality Action Plan
HGV Heavy Goods Vehicle
Economic growth and increasing human population have led to increased pollution, including air pollution. Pollution is not coincidental to economic activity but (at present) is integral to it. A major criticism of the NHDC Report is that it purports to want a reduction in air pollution, but not if business-as-usual is slowed or even inconvenienced. These are contradictory aims. What this means for the citizens of Hitchin is a report which downplays the problem, and offers minor cosmetic “solutions” which will definitely be ineffectual in the short-term, and most likely in the long-term too. Pollution has to be stopped at source, and health and safety put first.
As with much pollution, the polluting activity is caused by one group of people while another group pay the price. Differential corporation tax on producers of industrial waste (like NO/NO2) is the Green Party policy for dealing with the issue. NHDC should investigate how this principle could be applied locally, applying fines and charges to polluters.
Specific issues with the Report
The Report finds that the two sites which are monitored in Hitchin (Stevenage Road near the Three Moorhens roundabout and Paynes Park) exceed the government safety threshold for NO2.
This government safety threshold annual average is 40µg/m3.
The results for Hitchin are taken from 6 years of data, and more than one monitoring tube/analyser within the location which have been averaged out:
Stevenage Road: 47.2µg/m3
Paynes Park: 51.9µg/m3
This concentration is assumed to drop off with distance which means residential receptors are calculated to have lower levels (at Stevenage Road this is predicted to be 42.6µg/m3, and at Paynes Park 47µg/m3).
Problems with data
Unfortunately, the Air Quality Action Plan is based on nearly-irrelevant data with two major problems:
1. The data supplied are annual averages which include measurements taken in the early hours every day, and also on bank holidays, such as Christmas Day, which lower the averages considerably. Much more useful would be real measurements of NOx levels over 24 hour-periods on a named day basis. There is a regular peak at around 8 am where the concentration of NO2 at the Stevenage Road site reaches about 65µg/m3 and likely coincides with a peak in pedestrian numbers as people go to work or school. There is another smaller peak at 4-5pm where the NO2 peak is about 50µg/m3. Particulates are not measured - although these have the best evidence, in terms of impact on health. The Report gives an average figure of 42µg/m3 and the government-generated “safe” threshold is 40.
2. There are concerns regarding the distance from the kerb that the readings were taken. At the Stevenage Road site the monitor was between 2 and 5 m away from the kerb with no additional information on height of the receptor/monitor. To be meaningful, the measurements should correlate with typical pedestrian inhalations (as well as concentrations at residential locations).
Once the data are looked at in this way the real situation can be seen, which is worse than the Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) suggests. It means urgent and steep reductions in emissions are needed to reach government safety standards, at certain times of day.
Why isn’t monitoring to be extended?
There are 42 sites monitored throughout North Herts, and two of these are in Hitchin (Stevenage Road and Payne’s Park). In Hitchin alone there are several places where monitoring would be useful, but the AQAP describes no intention to expand the number of monitored sites. There are various obvious examples, such as the traffic lights at Hermitage Road and Queen St, Hitchin (outside Portmill Surgery) and on the pedestrian footway under the Cambridge Road railway bridge.
Looking at Stevenage Road and Paynes Park cars and taxis make up between 84% and 80% of the traffic and produce 44% to 48% of the NOx emissions; HGVs make up between 3.2% and 3.8% of the traffic and produce 31% to 26% of the NOx emissions. Therefore, the Action Plan targets private cars and HGVs; with HGVs as the top priority. A small percentage of HGVs is producing a disproportionate amount of the pollution.
Discussion around specific action points in the Report
HGVs/ECO Stars scheme: This is an action which tries to reduce HGV air pollution by trying to get polluters to sign up to the scheme. The scheme provides recognition for best practice and efficiency by providing a free review of fuel management, which can affect financial and environmental performance. The ECO Stars website supplies two case studies which were of large firms (eg. one has 280 employees) in major areas such as Edinburgh and Nottingham/Yorkshire, with changes running over 4 to 9 years.
This is it for the HGV Action Plan, and we feel just trying to persuade business owners to sign up for a scheme is unlikely to make any real difference.
The NH&S Green Party recommends seeking a way to limit the daily peak pollution to the government limit – perhaps by restricting access through the two AQMAs (Air Quality Management Areas) or levying a hefty charge on polluters. Particularly polluting vehicles should be regulated in terms of how often they can pass through or be banned outright.
School travel plans: We guess this means more pupils walk/cycle to school although it’s not spelled out in the Report. Let’s hope they don’t have to walk along Stevenage Road, or by Payne’s Park! Also, education packs about air pollution will be supplied to schools, but as children don’t drive cars or lorries this is a very long-term plan. The NH&S Green Party agree with these local school-related actions, such as establishing a “Walk-to-school” club.
Promotion of walking and cycling: The Report says it “will work to investigate initiatives” which seem to mainly involve information distribution. The Cambridge Road railway bridge footway is a discouragement for daily walking to the rail station for people coming from the South or East, and who are due to increase in number due to planned new housing. We are actively involved in initiating change here. The Green Party would also like to see a ban on parking on cycle-paths.
Electric Vehicles (EVs) in Central Hitchin car parks and elsewhere: There are 4 schemes aimed at encouraging EV use including free parking, free electricity, and replacing the NHDC fleet with EVs. 4 EV charging points in total are to be provided with free electricity (usually about 10 kWh – probably about £2) but each will take an average of 4 hours to charge a car from empty…therefore will enable 5-6 cars parked sequentially over 24 hours, max. Another idea might be to attach chargers to lamp-posts.
However, the charge points will be a continuous advertising presence, acting to normalise the use of EVs. We agree with this action, and call for expansion if there is good take-up. In Stevenage 4 electric cars are available for hire on a pay-as-you-go basis which works out at £5.50 per hour including insurance and fuel.
Enforce anti-idling: This is planned as a suggestion for vehicles parking or delivering, and not for those in traffic queues. There is no data providing insight into the relative contributions of each.
New Hitchin industrial estate relief road: The data collection will begin in 2017 to provide an evidence base for this. However, the NH&S Green Party are opposed to new roads. They simply postpone or even exacerbate the problem and use valuable resources and land. We recommend tackling the problem as it exists now.
Cycling survey: nothing is given in the Report to date.
Car sharing/clubs: The NH&S Green Party support these.
National clean air day: June 2027 and annually thereafter. It’s not clear what this is. Hopefully it’s a day that vehicles are banned from the centre of Hitchin, save for priority exceptions, such as emergency or registered-disabled vehicles.
Green wall: It’s not clear from the Report what this is.
North Herts and Stevenage Green Party support tackling this issue, and a report is the first step. However, the data are downplayed, and the plans for mitigation are weak. The NH&S Green Party would like to see stronger conviction that air pollution is a negative thing for people living and working in Hitchin, with serious measures suggested by NHDC to deal with the problem.