Air pollution is a huge national problem but it can be solved. Already the organisation Client Earth as taken the UK government to court three times and won over their failure to protect the UK public from toxic air pollution. These court wins forced the government to produce new air quality plans. But the government is not acting fast enough. It announced in April that those Clean Air Zones (CAZs) – which deter the most polluting vehicles from entering the most polluted parts of towns and cities – scheduled to be introduced this year in Leeds, Birmingham and Bath will be pushed back until at least January 2021 because of the pandemic.
I think most residents of Watlington are aware that there is an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) here in Watlington which includes part of Brook Street, all of Couching Street and Shirburn Street. The hope is that the proposed Edge Road will resolve this problem which is caused by a combination of pinch points causing traffic to slow or stop and idling engines releasing No 2 and harmful particulates in an area that has narrow streets and tall buildings which creates a street canyon effect meaning that these harmful substances are not released from the area but build up to dangerous levels. Of course, the Edge Road will not be built any time soon. Oxfordshire County Council has first to produce a planning application for the road once they have established, through due diligence investigations which route the road should take. Watlington Parish Council has stressed that the route indicated in the Neighbourhood Plan is the preferred route by the people of Watlington. Although the conditions experienced in the area of the Town Hall where pollution is currently worst would not be replicated in the new developments if the Edge Road were to run through the estates rather than around them there are other reasons to discourage the possible alternative route being considered by Oxfordshire County Council.
Until the Edge Road is built we need to do what we can to reduce the emission of NO2 and Particulate matter. Alarmingly, a growing body of evidence also highlights potential links between air pollution and Covid-19.
The 2019 data shows that we were breathing illegally polluted air right before the Covid-19 pandemic. While the lockdown led to a temporary decrease in NO2 levels in some areas, traffic and pollution levels are already back on the rise in many towns and cities.
We think the UK Government and local authorities should not rely on temporary dips experienced during lockdown to evade the urgent need to clean up our air on a lasting basis.
Clean Air Day is a day to review what we are doing and to improve and make these improvements our new normal.
Last year the Parish Council were getting everyone to sign pledge cards. Can you remember what you pledged to do? Were you successful? Do you still do it?
The WPC was not able to do that this year because of COVID 19 but hopefully, pledges were valuated and either continued or strengthened.
At the beginning of lockdown, the graphs showing the emissions in Watlington improved considerable but have now returned pretty much to normal levels.
What could you do to cut your emissions? Stop idling? Stop driving your car as often? Cycle or walk instead? One person’s actions may not seem much but as the beginning of COVID lockdown shows us, when everyone stays at home and doesn’t drive the changes are considerable.