Monday, 25 April 2016

Serious health concerns over developments planned for Canterbury and resulting increases in air pollution

Canterbury District Green Party Chair, Prof. Stephen Peckham, had the letter below printed in the Kentish Gazette on 21st April 2016. There was also a long article about the air pollution problem in Canterbury containing an interview with Stephen in the same issue of the newspaper.

Dear Sir

There are major concerns about the proposed traffic plans being put forward by Corinthian, the Mountfield Park Developers (Gazette April 14). While gridlock and traffic chaos are obvious consequences of what is proposed, the resultant increase in air pollution also needs to be highlighted. Canterbury already experiences poor air quality from traffic with a third of roadside pollution monitors recording levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) higher than the maximum permitted annual level of 40 ug/m3.  In addition, many of the sites record levels that are close to the maximum hourly rate – especially at peak travel times. Traffic pollution builds up during the week and people living or working close to main roads are particularly at risk, as are children in schools located next to busy roads.

In February this year a new report from the Royal College of Physicians estimated that air pollution causes over 40,000 deaths annually in the UK as well as contributing to health problems such as asthma, cancer and heart disease. Children are particularly vulnerable – damage to children’s lungs occurs at levels well below the national permitted levels. In Canterbury estimates suggest that air pollution is also responsible for over 100 deaths each year.  Moreover, historic buildings are damaged by air pollution – an important issue given Canterbury’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The analysis of traffic increases outlined by the developers in the South Canterbury – as well as other large developments such as in Thanington – significantly underestimate future traffic volumes. Contrary to the assurances given in the air quality report submitted with the planning application for Mountfield Park, air quality has been getting worse and will continue to worsen with increased traffic volume, especially in the key access roads such as New Dover Road, Rheims Way and Wincheap. In 2015 ozone levels exceeded maximum legal limits on 11 days and NO2 levels increased across many monitoring sites in 2014. Given the extensive housing and commercial developments proposed for Canterbury, it is inevitable that air pollution levels will continue to rise.

While the Local Plan strategy of increasing pedestrian, cycle and bus use is to be welcomed, the reality is that achieving significant reductions in traffic requires investment across the whole district, not just in relation to future housing developments.  Reducing traffic volumes through restrictions and use of alternatives is clearly an important goal, but attention also needs to be paid to improving roads and pavements for non-car users, buffering non-car users from traffic and promoting people-friendly residential roads with 20mph speed limits and pedestrian priority.  Some initiatives that should be considered before agreeing further developments could include:

·         banning the most polluting heavy vehicles by creating a low- emission zone within Canterbury, encouraging public and commercial organisations to switch to low emission vehicles;
·         better traffic management including pedestrian and dedicated cycle access for congested roads and junctions;
·         more roadside pollution monitoring with the installation of automated monitoring stations on New Dover Road, Wincheap and Rheims Way to get a clearer picture of pollution levels and routine measuring of roadside particulate matter levels;
·         increased buffer planting near schools and housing  to reduce pollution exposure;
·         deterring vehicles from congested areas by providing alternative transport options with priority access.

It is vital to consider measures to reduce the growing problem of air pollution before large-scale developments are given the green light in order to protect the health of Canterbury residents.

Professor Stephen Peckham
Centre for Health Services Studies

University of Kent