Most of us have heard about Farnham having an air quality problem but is it serious and if it is what can be done?
Farnham is a lovely old market town with many narrow streets and pavements and a one-way traffic system which ensures that the centre of the town is rarely free from slow moving traffic. Two main roads (the A287 running north south and the A325 running east west) pass through the town centre which encourages through traffic, including HGV’s, to use the centre of town, competing for space with local commuters and pedestrians. In addition, a number of areas outside the town centre have become heavily congested by increasing traffic, for example; Station Hill, Wrecclesham Road, Hale Road, and Farnborough Road.
As the largest proportion of air pollution in our area is created by traffic it is no surprise that Farnham has a significant air quality problem.
How bad is it, how do we know, and does it matter?
In a word its bad in central Farnham and getting worse in some areas around the town, and it does matter to our health.
The UK and EU governments, along with other international agencies, have established what are considered to be safe air quality parameters. These levels of air pollution are defined in law and local authorities in this country are responsible for monitoring the air quality and where breaches to the air quality regulations occur, taking steps to fix the problem.
For us the main air quality pollutant we need to be concerned about is Nitrogen Dioxide NO2. A level of 40 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre of air has been set as the legal maximum limit for the average annual concentration of this pollutant.
Waverley Borough Council (WBC) has the responsibility to monitor air quality and to issue annual assessment reports and it is the responsibility of Surrey County Council (SCC) to introduce measures which will improve air quality. Of course, central government has a key role to introduce legislation to change people’s behaviour in relation to their choice of vehicle purchases and use, and to give the local authorities the powers and budgets they might need to alter traffic flows etc.
In 2004 WBC undertook a review of the air quality in the borough and because of air quality pollution breaches, introduced three Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA’s), as was required in environmental regulations. The AQMA’s covered a large part of central Farnham, with smaller areas in Hindhead and Godalming. Click to see AQMA Map from WBC website.
The purpose of the AQMA is to drive the local authorities to introduce measures to improve air quality within the AQMA so that those areas can be withdrawn. In Waverley’s case the only area withdrawn since 2004 has been Hindhead where the new A3 Hindhead tunnel has eradicated the air quality problem.
For Farnham the air quality within the AQMA has not improved over the thirteen years since its introduction and worryingly the quality of air in a number of areas of the town outside the AQMA have significantly deteriorated so that it may now be necessary to extend the AQMA to include them. A good part of West Street, The Borough, East Street and South Street have annual average NO2 above the 40 micrograms per cubic metre level and the same is true for Station Hill and Wrecclesham Road south of the Coxbridge roundabout.
WBC normally issues an Air Quality Annual Status Report which gives details of all the monitoring stations throughout the borough and lists an Air Quality Action Plan to be undertaken Click for link to WBC website for 2016 Air Quality Report.
We do need to be concerned about the high levels of pollution in and around Farnham because it has been shown that when people have long term exposure to such levels of pollution it can have a very significant effect on life expectancy. This is brought about by the adverse effect of pollution on respiratory, heart and cancer disease and brain function. These effects are stated by the UK government to account for some 40,000 early deaths per annum in this country. Air pollution has a particularly bad effect on the development of young children and on the elderly, who may have pre -existing health issues. It is only in the last ten years or so that the full impact of air pollution has become better understood.
What can be done
Firstly, we need to have more up to date and more accurate air quality information and WBC are setting out to hopefully provide that. They have changed the way that they organise the collection of air quality data by utilising the services of outside specialist contractors and consultants and they have started to issue the results from all their (diffusion tube) monitoring stations on a monthly basis on their website. This is very welcome. Click for link to WBC website page.
WBC now sees this issue as very important and has established a new Farnham Air Quality Working Group which brings together SCC, WBC, Farnham Town Council councillors and officers together with representatives of The Farnham Society. The minutes of this group will be published on the WBC website.
If action is not taken then our air quality will continue to deteriorate until such time as electric powered vehicles become the norm in ten to fifteen years at best.
The alternative is for significant changes to take place in traffic flows through our town and this is possible but may well be disruptive. SCC has the powers to undertake a number of significant traffic control measures but has until now chosen not to introduce them. Part of the problem of course has been the lack of funds to undertake such schemes. This however seems to be changing with central government offering major funding for this type of project.
Behavioural change by us all could have a significant effect on the problem but that will be down to each of us changing our routine and most people seem reluctant to do so. A greater understanding of the issues and seeing the benefits of changing our ways with a few prods from central government by way of higher taxes or incentives may help. Let’s hope so.