The Farnham Society sub-committee was set up in early 2015 to study and write a report on air pollution within our town. Why? Because Waverley Borough Council had been monitoring the problem for at least nine years, and whilst it was recognised that there was indeed a problem, no remedial action was taken in all that time. Worse, both Waverley Borough Council and indeed all our elected bodies ignored the ramifications. In short, air pollution from diesel engines is a major factor to the health of our residents and visitors to the town. Farnham has the worst level of pollution in the whole of Surrey. Your Society took on the mantle that the councils should have long taken, to investigate and report on all this danger of neglect.
The sub-committee, made up of five members of the Society, each with expertise in their field, decided the report should be an in-depth study of the 2014 figures produced by the monitoring stations situated around the town. These measure the density of pollution from diesel vehicles (the over whelming culprits) and are collected on a monthly basis by agents and reported to Waverley. Waverley then take the twelve monthly readings for the year and write a report addressed to Surrey County Council and DEFRA, the government agency responsible for the environment.
At the same time the clinical papers on the effects of air pollution on health were studied, together with traffic and public transport flows. A comprehensive preliminary report was submitted to your Executive Committee.
The findings were alarming. Many of the measurement sites were showing levels of pollution well above the danger level of 40 microns per cubic metre set by the EU. Further, some of the measurement sites were situated in incorrect positions and all were difficult to identify because their position was purely a map reference. On pointing out some of these deficiencies to Waverley they did take remedial action on at least one site. DEFRA later made all councils identify sites by their names rather than map references.
At the same time clinical evidence was produced showing that air pollution was either the cause of respiratory disease or was responsible for premature death in vascular disease, strokes, and cardiac arrest. The Government accepted this could be responsible for around 25,000 premature deaths per year – our report, having studied all the clinical evidence in both our country and the USA put the figure closer to 40,000. Remember this was based on the 2014 figures (now 3 years old). Diesel traffic in Farnham has increased by 5% since that time, for example.
40,000 is now an accepted figure by all, and many clinicians have even put the figure at closer to 50,000 premature deaths as a direct result of NO2, the product of diesel traffic. Clinical trials now show that air pollution leads to much greater clinical damage and now shows that it can proliferate dementia, liver disease, and even affect embryos in pregnant women. A study published only today proved that the particulates of air pollution actually enter the blood stream and can attack anywhere in the body – literally from cradle to grave.
Our early contact with Waverley was co-operative but following our negative comments Waverley now refuse to provide us with any information. Waverley Borough Council has refused to make public either the 2015 figures or indeed the 2016 figures for air pollution. We have even tried to seek information via the Freedom of Information Act but have been thwarted. The same with DEFRA.
Since the sub-committee first met, air pollution from diesel traffic is recognised by all. Worse, it has been shown that diesel manufacturers have been falsifying their emission tests. Some experts believe that the on-the –road emissions are as much as 15 times higher than claimed. Towns and cities around the country are now taking matters into their own hands. Actions have included the banning of HGVs in town centres, increased parking charges for diesel cars, and (like London) the introduction of higher congestion charges for diesel traffic. The government is due to release its own very late proposals but this has been delayed by months and it has now been forced by the High Court to release their proposals.
In the meantime Surrey County Council, unlike most other authorities, has done nothing! Waverley can only report the figures as it is the County’s responsibility to take remedial action- but why is Waverley refusing to make the air pollution figures public? What have they got to hide? Both councils have an over-riding duty of care to the residents and nothing is more important than health
Other councils are publishing their latest air pollution reports and conversation with Guildford only last week confirmed that it is not difficult as DEFRA provide a template. As a result some local authorities are banning new development on roads and areas with already high pollution levels.
The most dangerous levels in Farnham are emitted at the South Street and the Borough cross roads (already an Air Pollution Management Area). This will come as no surprise. The proposed East Street development will greatly add to the danger if it goes ahead. Waverley Borough Council is a ‘Partner’ in this development and will stand to gain financially for many years if it goes ahead. For environmental reasons if nothing else the scheme needs to be rethought.
Our initial provisional report now needs to be completely revised to reflect the current position. Your sub-committee however feels that it must be provided with the 2015 figures first as a priority. The Chairman of the Society has written to Waverley, Defra, and our MP but as yet with no result. Surrey’s best advice is to ‘monitor the situation’, something that it has been doing for many years. In the meantime it is the health of the young and old of Farnham that is suffering from this silent killer.
Chairman of The Farnham Society Air Pollution Committee