Thursday, 22 December 2011

Car Sick! We call for 'Smarter Travel Plan' for the city.

It will be no surprise to Canterbury residents to learn that air quality in many parts of the city is now failing to meet standards set down by the government. Upper and Lower Bridge Street, Broad Street/Military Road, Sturry Road, North Lane, Wincheap, Rheims Way, St Peter's Place, North Lane and St Dunstan's Street have all been identified as hot-spots where the poor air quality may be potentially damaging to health. Indeed, the City Council will soon declare that the entire city is to be declared an Air Quality Management Area, which obliges the council to monitor the air quality and put in place plans to tackle the problem.

The specific problem in Canterbury is with nitrogen dioxide. It is caused by traffic (as well as other things). Health studies link it with respiratory conditions and it can aggravate existing conditions, such as asthma. Long-term exposure to air pollution has been estimated by the 'Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants' to be around 340,000 years of life, equivalent to 29,000 deaths a year. This puts it almost in the same league as smoking and alcoholism. Some estimate the annual cost to UK health services of air pollution at £20 billion.

There is currently an action plan in place to deal with the poor air quality in Broad Street/Military Road. The plan is likely to be extended to the other hot-spots in the city when the consultation is complete. We don't think it will work and think that something much more radical will be needed. We believe that a 'Smarter Travel Plan' for the whole of Canterbury is what is required.

KCC is currently drawing up a bid for funds from the 'Local Sustainable Transport Fund', £540m set up by the government for schemes that reduce congestion and improve air quality. The fund is based on the success of the 'Sustainable Travel Towns' and 'Cycling Demonstration Towns' projects which saw a decrease in car use and an increase in walking , cycling and public transport use in the towns the scheme was piloted in.

KCC have decided to bid for one of the smaller amounts (up to £5m) and we are currently involved with others in submitting recommendations for projects to go into this bid.

We are also involved in forming a new group specifically established to campaign for cleaner air in Canterbury. One of the aims of the group will be to try secure funding to commission our own blueprint for sustainable transport here. If Worcester, Peterborough and other towns in the 'Sustainable Travel Towns' project can deliver traffic reductions and cleaner, quieter and safer streets, then we should be able to as well.