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Air Pollution Ignored in Planning Decisions

January 14, 2019 4:35 PM
By Peter Dobbs
Buxton Rd Ashbourne (Peter Dobbs)

The most polluted road in the Dales?

A few months ago an estate agent, extolling the virtues of Ashbourne, Derbyshire as a place to live, praised the air quality of the town. It is instructive to reflect on how they might have decided that Ashbourne air is 'good to breathe'.

It seems that all sources of information that purport to tell you about air quality rely on figures supplied to DEFRA (headed up by Mr Gove). The collection of such data in the Derbyshire Dales is the responsibility of the local authority - Derbyshire Dales District Council.

In fact the only data they are currently collecting is on levels of the pollutant called nitrogen dioxide (NO2) associated with car and lorry exhaust - and then only for average values. There is no data about high, short term, levels, for example at the peak of rush hour. They are also collecting data at only 13 locations throughout the whole of the Derbyshire Dales.
There is currently no monitoring of particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) either short or long term despite the links between these and certain lung conditions. Also several of the 13 NO2 monitoring points are not in appropriate situations (where people actually live or walk close to roads carrying large volumes of traffic). It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the monitoring of something that can affect the health of any of us but particularly the old and young, is far from comprehensive or even fit for purpose. Add to this the fact that the last data submitted to DEFRA was for the year ending December 2016 - so the latest data is now TWO YEARS OUT OF DATE.

Curiously although the Derbyshire Dales Annual Status Report is sent to DEFRA (eventually!) it is not presented to the Council as a report for their consideration. Even if current pollution figures are known to planning officers (which seems unlikely), they certainly have not been quoted in any conditions imposed on housing developments. Although there is always consultation with the County Council on whether the road infrastructure can cope with the additional traffic caused by the additional homes, there is no mention of the extra air pollution that must inevitably result from those extra cars and delivery lorries.

Disappointingly but perhaps predictably the latest Local Plan policy is much weaker on guidance to keep our Dales air unpolluted than the policy it replaced.

The 2005 policy NBE 15 is clear and specific;

It states that 'Planning permission will only be granted for development if;

(a) it does not have an adverse impact upon air quality of its immediate or

wider surroundings or;

(b) it would not be adversely affected by existing sources of poor air quality

In contrast the 2017 Local Plan policy PD 9 which mostly deals with contamination of land and watercourses has just this to say about air pollution;

'The District Council will protect people and the environment from unsafe, unhealthy and polluted environments….. this will be achieved by only permitting developments if the potential adverse effects (individually and cumulatively) are mitigated to an acceptable level by other environmental controls or by measures included in the proposals.

This includes:

air pollution (including odours or particulate emissions);….

If you had to word a policy that meant so little it was unenforceable this would be a good example.

Derbyshire Dales District Council have a responsibility to define what they understand is an 'acceptable level' and start to use this policy to guide planning of developments.

Already people in other parts of the country are beginning to challenge decisions that mean the air that they breathe is damaging their health. It seems quite possible that DDDC will eventually be facing legal challenges as to why they allowed the air of our towns to become so contaminated. They should face their responsibilities now and avoid more damage to the environment.