Calderdale's Air Quality Action Plan is still up in the air

Calderdale’s Air Quality Action Plan will go back to Cabinet for a rethink after failing to get the backing of a majority of councillors in its current form.

Coun Daniel Sutherland said the council could not fix Air Quality problems on its own

The issue is an important one in Calderdale – acknowleged by all parties – in a borough which has eight areas subject to management plans because pollution levels are too high.

The ruling Labour group said the plan was a starting point but could be developed, but other councillors wanted more work to be done on it.

Leader of the Council – which met at Halifax Town Hall last night (Wednesday, April 3) – Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) said the plan had already been out to scrutiny committes twice.

“I think the sensible thing would be to approve the policy but recognising it gives us the opportunity to add additional actions,” he said.

But with votes tied at 23-23, he agreed Cabinet would take it back and plan, which would have seen Sowerby Bridge as the pilot area for a low emissions scheme, would be looked at again, despite council officers already working on the issue with colleagues at county level.

Independent Coun Colin Raistrick (Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) had cheekily suggested “a series of indicative votes.” More seriously, he had said the problem with air quality management is that the council was not managing it. “In Hipperholme, we’ve done nothing but build houses,” he said.

Liberal Democrat Group Leader Coun James Baker (Warley) said there was a lack of detail, for example about target dates for improvements, in the plan.

“There is no statistical evidence in the plan about how it will be delivered,” he said. “It needs more work done.”

But Coun Daniel Sutherland (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden), Cabinet member for environmental issues, said the problem was a serious one the council could not fix alone.

“As a council we do not have the powers to fix air quality management areas and this is a call to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, to the Government, and to the community of Calderdale that we need to work together if we are going to fix this,” he said.

Sowerby Bridge Coun Mike Payne (Con) said: “In aspirations this report doesn’t go far enough and quickly enough.”

He said a lot could have been done already, for example making new homes self-sufficient in power.

Coun Roger Taylor (Con, Northowram and Shelf) raised other issues such as wood burners which were now said to be more pulluting than modern vehicle emissions.

He added Alliance of British Drivers rsearch indicated regulations could slow or stop traffic to the extent it polluted more. “In the words of ‘Let It Snow’ – let it flow, let it flow, let it flow,” he said.

Coun Sutherland said: “Ninety per cent of emissions come from traffic – our focus should be actually on the areas where we have some control.”

That could be about controlling traffic flow but also about improving public transport and giving people better options – “better buses, cheaper buses, more frequent buses, a train service that actually runs on time,” he said.

Conservative Group Leader Coun Scott Benton (Brighouse) accused Labour councillors of being hypocrites on grounds the Local Plan they had shaped would put another 4,000 homes and traffic they brought in Brighouse, “slap bang in the middle of an Air Quality Management zone.”

Coun Paul Bellenger (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) said the council should put its own house in order. He had counted on one day last week in 20 minutes six minivans going in and out of the council car park delivering or picking up letters. “Where’s the efficiency in that?” he said.

But Coun Dot Foster (Lab, Sowerby Bridge) said she welcomed the plan which would tackle a problem which resulted in serious health issues and reduced life expectancy.

People had to change their habits and use public transport more. “Air pollution is a massive problem in my ward.

“If we all make the effort to take the bus to work, cut our engines when we are stationary, perhaps it makes a little bit of difference,” she said.

Coun John Ford (Con, Elland) had recalled plans which had circulated at some time in the past proposing tunnels for traffic in Sowerby Bridge and Hebden Bridge – similar existed in Switzerland with air filtration equipment in their alpine tunnels.

He also said Calderdale had a growing problem with climate inversion – bright sunshine up on the tops but mist and fog in the cooler valley bottom, trapping fumes below the cool air.

The debate did produce discussions councillors felt was useful, for example about vehicles including some school buses “idling” their vehicles outside schools.

Coun Colin Peel (Con, Brighouse) raised the issue although Coun Taylor, who drove buses, said drivers were encouraged to switch their engines off, and he and most of his colleagues did.

Councillors did approve a revision of the authority’s Environmental Policy Statement.

The revision aligns the statement with current council priorities and ensures the authority’s continued accreditation to the internationally recognised Environmental Management standard.

Councillors heard the policy will support Calderdale’s aim to building a sustainable future, part of its bid to become the Best Borough in the North when measured among 20 northern authorities.