Air quality

Farnham Pollution Summit anniversary

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The Pollution Summit held on October 25th 2019 and organised by the Farnham Herald and Jeremy Hunt, was seen by some as a political stunt, but in fact was the catalyst for real dialog on this matter between senior Surrey CC and Waverley BC officers and Councillors, perhaps for the first time.

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The actions needed to resolve Farnham’s high air pollution problems have been known for many years, indeed Waverley BC’s own Air Quality Management Plan published in 2008 stated that reduction in traffic flow through central Farnham by part pedestrianisation would be the best remedy. However, the fact that Waverley BC has no power or budget to do what it had proposed, taken together with the lack of political will at all levels, has meant that there has been no significant action so far.

The Farnham Society has, in the past, been highly critical of Waverley Borough Council in its incompetence in monitoring air quality but we are glad to say that these issues have now been resolved with rapid publication of valid air quality data available online to everyone.

None of us were to know when the pollution summit took place in October last year, the enormous changes which were to unfold in 2020 with the onslaught of the Corona Virus. Traffic volumes across the country plummeted and so did the amount of air pollution, certainly in terms of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO) concentrations. In Farnham, NO concentrations fell by 50% between January 2020 and May during the lockdown period but have of course increased as traffic has returned since but, significantly, not to the pre lockdown levels. This may be due to lower overall traffic volumes, although nationally volumes are almost back to where they were, but more likely to the lane restrictions which have controversially been introduced in Farnham since the summer. This points to the potential value of restricting lanes so as to reduce pollution even when this leads to slower moving traffic.

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Another aspect which has been highlighted by the lockdown is the fact that Particulate Matter PM₁₀ concentrations (measured continuously by the automatic monitor at the Royal Deer Junction) show no similar changes to NO concentrations. In fact, there seems to have been little effect on PM ₁₀ concentrations, so it is clear that traffic volumes in Farnham are not the critical factor.

Looking forward, it is obvious that Farnham will not breach any government pollution guidelines this year as these are mostly based on annual mean numbers which in Farnham will all be well below the Air Quality Standards regulations. Beyond that who knows? Given that the number of diesel cars (the worst polluters) being sold has fallen so dramatically from 50% of all cars in 2016 to only 15% this year and that electric and hybrid cars are now selling in similar numbers to diesel, the effect on NO levels must surely come soon.

In any event, the changes to traffic flows as a result of the proposed wide-ranging Farnham Infrastructure Programme, will have a major beneficial effect not only on pollution levels but on the entire environment of the town. There will of course also be problems which result from these changes, one of the important ones being the effect on the Upper Hale Road congestion. However overall, we support many of the proposals which have been tabled but we do worry about the availability of funds to carry the ambitious programme to completion. The Project Board seems to be working well and is reaching out to all stakeholders in and around the town including business and retail which will be much affected by the changes.

For the first time that many of us can remember, there does seem to be a concerted effort by all tiers of local government to work together and to engage with us all in finding a good solution. Political attitudes across the country have changed on environmental and healthy living issues and this must surely be welcome.

John Slater

Chair of the Air Quality Committee


Covid 19 and air pollution

Air pollution

Martin Luther University of Germany has studied correlation between Covid 19 and air pollution. The research indicates that long term exposure to NO² may be one of the most important contributors to fatality from Coronavirus.

Click here for further information about research

Click here for abstract of scientific paper

Although there is no causal link shown between air pollution and Covid 19, it is to be expected that people who have had long term exposure to high levels of NO²  will suffer from respiratory damage which is directly linked to greater risk from the disease.

NO² concentrations in central Farnham (as recorded at the automatic monitor at The Royal Deer crossroads) have fallen by around 50% since the lockdown commenced and are now at a very acceptable level of 16 µg/m³. Interestingly however, the Particulate Matter PM₁₀ readings have so far not changed, pointing to the fact that Particulate Matter is mostly the result of factors other than traffic and for Farnham are at levels well below UK government objectives (20 µg/m³ in Farnham compared with 40 µg/m³ government guidelines).

The diffusion tube NO²monitoring system run by Waverley BC has had to be suspended for the time being because of the current crisis.


Automatic monitoring of air quality

Air Quality data in Waverley has until now been posted monthly on WBC’s website. This has comprised date from monitoring devices known as Diffusion Tubes, sited at various locations in the borough.

Waverley has now let a new contract with Ricardo Energy and Environment for monitoring of automatic sensors. One of these is sited in Farnham at the junction of The Borough and South Street. The sensor takes readings of two pollutants:

  • Nitrogen dioxide gas, NO₂
  • Particles less than 10 micrometers (0.01 mm) in diameter, PM₁₀

Readings are taken every hour in real time with very high accuracy. Information from automatic monitoring was only previously made available by WBC when the annual Air Quality Report was issued, the last one of which was for 2016!

The new contract has allowed WBC to join their national website which provides real time linkage to all the national network of automatic monitors and provides historic data (only since 01.12.18 in the case of the WBC sites) and current measurements as well as tools to graph and average the data with an assessment of the relative degree of pollution. From the website, go to ‘Select a local authority / customer’, and from the drop down menu select Waverley. This will give a map of Waverley showing the locations of the monitors. Click on the symbol in Farnham, this will give a summary panel from which ‘View full details and data’ gives access to real time and historic data.

As one would expect there are very large fluctuations in NO₂ and PM₁₀ both on an hourly basis and from day to day. There are statutory limits for both long term and short term levels of pollution.

For the long term, limits are generally set on the basis of annual mean levels of 40µg/m³ for both NO₂ and PM₁₀ .

For the short term, the criterion is that levels must not exceed a threshold too often.

  • For NO₂ the hourly mean level must not exceed 200µg/m³ more than 18 times a year.
  • For PM₁₀ the 24 hour mean level must not exceed 50µg/m³ more than 35 times a year.

This is a welcome development by WBC, which shows that our council is honouring the commitments made to The Farnham Society in relation to making air quality data available to all as soon as possible.


Farnham Air Quality



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.

JMS 14/03/18