Serious air quality issues in towns across Calderdale threatening people's health

Sowerby Bridge and Hebden Bridge, have serious issues of concern with the quality of the air people breathe,
Sowerby Bridge and Hebden Bridge, have serious issues of concern with the quality of the air people breathe,

Serious concerns have been raised about the quality of air that people are breathing in towns across Calderdale

Councillors and council officers have pledged to push the issue of air quality up the political agenda regionally and tackle it in Calderdale, in part through encouraging people to make changes in their lives.

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet are soon to discuss a paper on air quality, which threatens people’s health in the borough, the region and the country.

In December both the council’s Strategy and Performance Scrutiny Board and Cabinet Transport Working Party debated air quality at length.

Some Calderdale areas, for example Sowerby Bridge and Hebden Bridge, have serious issues of concern with the quality of the air people breathe, much related to traffic emissions.

At the working party, Calderdale Friends of the Earth co-ordinator Anthony Rae reported that emissions growth in West Yorkshire by 2030 was expected to rise by 28 per cent when it should be reduced by 44 per cent, figures he had sought and was was trying to get verified through Transport for the North – but if correct “then that is an alarming forecast”.

Although Calderdale’s efforts were to be praised, at West Yorkshire Combined Authority level strategic issues needed to be grasped, accompanied by a demand to know when the region would be air quality compliant and would it be by the due date, said Mr Rae.

Working party chair Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden) agreed Calderdale had to take a lead on the matter regionally at WYCA’s Transport Committee.

“I suggest we build a stance to take to take to Transport Committee and try and drive it forward. We will try and push this politically,” he said.

At the scrutiny board Calderdale’s Director of Public Health Paul Butcher said the council’s draft Air Quality Action plan highlighted key priorities it needed to implement over the next 12 months and beyond.

He warned: “It’s fair to say there is no magic bullet to improve the air quality situation in Calderdale.”

But there were actions organisations and individuals could take, alongside work the council was doing, particularly becoming less reliant on their vehicles.

“It is clear it is not the authority on its own that will be able to deal with improving air quality.

“It is within a wider framework of other organisations and people, companies and individuals, making choices about how they protect their own health,” he said.

Coun Scott Benton (Con, Brighouse) asked what in terms of specific actions the council was doing, to show people it was taking the issue seriously.

He asked, for example, how the Sowerby Bridge plan could be extrapolated for Brighouse and, while accepting air quality was a much wider issue than Calderdale, what actions the council could take itself, such as using electric vehicles.

Officers said said the Sowerby Bridge pilot scheme to tackle issues was being developed in conjunction with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and a key part would be putting in place good access to alternative modes of transport to the car.

Other initiatives included a business breakfast to liaise with local haulage firms and talks with taxi firms and bus companies, and discussing supply of charging points for electric vehicles.

In the case of the latter they were looking at supplying ten points taxis could use and for new development parking spaces charging point provision was a requirement – one for every ten spaces when the Elland Rail Station project is finished.

Existing streets and roads provided challenges to grapple with as a lot of lamp posts – an easy source of supply – are set back from the road, raising access issues across pavements.

Coun Paul Bellenger (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) said big challenges included heavy polluting buses which served Calderdale and Coun Jenny Lynn (Lab, Park) said while it was encouraging First were retrograding some of their bus fleet Calderdale did not want the less efficient vehicles dumped on it. “We want clean buses please,” she said.

The scrutiny board will look to monitor progress over the next year.

At the working party Coun Roger Taylor (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said there were areas where Calderdale could improve.

One of the problems the council had with traffic flow – as opposed to stopping and belching out emissions – was it had a lot of traffic lights. It could be 3am and nobody there but traffic had to stop. He suggested looking to somewhere like the United States, where systems were different and allowed traffic to flow.

Coun Steven Leigh (Con, Ryburn) said when traffic was stuck for a long period of time it was not just an environmental cost but had a business cost and increased drivers’ frustration.