Emotive debate on air quality issues in West Vale

Emotions spilled over as senior councillors made a decision on dealing with air quality issues at a Calderdale village.

Outlining their case for requesting West Vale to be made subject to an air quality management area, residents who had signed a four-figure petition said the impact poor air quality might have on children’s health was major concern.

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet, having read a report from officers which concluded that although close to legal limits for nitrogen dioxide these were not breached and expected to fall in coming years, agreed the status should not be applied.

Cabinet member for Climate Change and Resilience, Coun Scott Patient (Lab, Luddenden Foot), said as limits when measured were not breached, the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) would question why the council wanted to confer the status.

West Vale. Picture: Google Street View

But, calling for the status including improved measurement of emissions to be applied, residents’ spokesperson Lyndsey Ashton said West Vale Primary School was the place measurements from diffusion tubes already there showed were worst and children were smaller and closer to the fumes.

Residents queried the quality of measurements and even with a national reduction factor being used were extremely close to the limit – which is 40 microgrammes per cubic metre of nitrogen oxide – that would mean it had to be subject to the status.

They believe the potential for 600 new homes to be build in the vicinity if Calderdale’s draft Local Plan is approved will make matters worse.

“More than we adults, they are most at risk – why has the council chosen not to monitor the air quality that the children of our community are breathing?

“Does the council care?

“We care and we are asking our council to care.

“Children are at considerable risk from toxic air in West Vale – we are only asking that they are not put at risk from a toxic attitude from members of the Cabinet,” she said.

Coun Patient said the council was concerned about the impact of air quality across the borough, was taking measures to mitigate it and open to using different methods of measuring air quality – including one requested by ward councillor Coun Paul Bellenger (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) – which were in its remit.

“Of course we care about young people, that’s why we doing the school streets project, that’s why we are trying to do more monitoring across the borough and of course we are open, as I said, to extending that monitoring and putting it in the locations you have suggested,” he said.

Coun Jenny Lynn (Lab, Park), Cabinet member for Public Services and Communities, responded to Ms Ashton: “First of all, for the avoidance of doubt, I want to make it quite clear this Cabinet is extremely concerned about air quality as far as our children are concerned.

“I understand the passion with which you put forward your presentation but I have to say that i think anyone who knows me and members of the Cabinet would really not accept your description of us as ‘toxic’.

“We do our best within the parameters which central Government lays down for the regulations governing our air quality,” she said.

Coun Bellenger had asked for additional testing on particulate matter and Coun Steven Leigh (Con, Ryburn) said he was considering calling in Cabinet’s decision for re-examination.

More than 1,000 people signed the petition calling for West Vale, near Greetland, to be subject to Air Quality Management Area status – there are eight of these in other areas of the borough.

Before the May local elections, Calderdale Council’s Place Scrutiny Board considered the petition and with debate revealing some questions.

Responding to three specific questions posed by the scrutiny board, officers say regarding monitoring equipment in 2018 that “nothing was switched off” at West Vale – a third tube actually at Salterhebble often referred to as being “West Vale” was switched off while major highway work was carried out.

Because of this officers used Government and regional “correction” factors for data as the next nearest sampling diffusion tubes were at Hebden Bridge, as closer Sowerby Bridge monitors were also off-line for a short period in 2018.

And in 2004 diffusion tubes (there are currently two) were deployed to the area because of concerns regarding potential “rat running” due to a major A629 capital project, a proactive in-service decision based on officers perceiving a possible air quality problem in that area – it was not at the request of the public or in response to any other demand, they said in the briefing paper.