I wrote recently about air quality and the urgent need to improve it in many parts of our region. I was therefore interested to see that Uttlesford District Council is planning a half million-pound project aiming to improve the quality of air in this corner of Essex.
Why this matters
Pollution can cause acute asthma, heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer, and there are up to 36,000 early deaths in the UK every year. With this in mind, the Council bid successfully to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for an Air Quality Grant of £517,124. This will be used to fund an action plan encouraging behaviour change and pollution reduction measures. Although levels of pollution in Uttlesford District are not significantly worse than in many other busy market towns, the Council wished to take action as air quality targets are going to tighten.
Air pollution has many constituents parts, including, for example, PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter). This is microscopic, can contain chemicals, and enters the bloodstream through the lungs, so is a particular health risk. The government’s PM 2.5 target has been set at 10 µg/m3 to be met by 2040. The World Health Organisation, however, has already reduced the guideline for annual average exposure to 5 µg/m3.
In Uttlesford the readings for PM 2.5 have been between 17 µg/m3 and 19 µg/m3 for the last few years, so, while this is within the government’s current target of 25 µg/m3, there is a need for improvement to meet future targets.
In order to reduce PM 2.5 and other pollutants like nitrogen oxide, the Council’s action plan includes measures to reduce traffic by giving people the tools to practice active travel, including:
- an electric vehicle car club,
- an e-bike hire scheme, allowing people to ‘try before they buy’,
- a zero emissions delivery service. Businesses and market traders wanting to deliver to local addresses could use an e-cargo delivery bike service instead of vans or cars. This would be free for the first six months.
There would also be an ‘engagement project’ to change behaviour and promote active travel, possibly including:
- an anti-idling campaign
- school street closures
- enhanced cycle training
- school travel plans
- pedestrianisation of Market Square
Unfortunately, the goal of cleaner air isn’t achievable solely by reducing fossil-fuel traffic in the town. In the UK, road transport only accounts for 12% of particulate matter and 35% of nitrogen oxide emissions. Other sources include woodburning in domestic fires, energy generation, tyre wear and other transport like shipping.
Saffron Walden is two miles from the M11, ten miles from Stansted Airport and 50 miles from London, so it’s likely that some air pollution is carried into the area rather than caused by local residents. This makes it harder to achieve a significant decrease, but nevertheless the Council hope to achieve beneficial reductions. In addition, active travel will promote healthier living habits. The project’s success will be monitored and evaluated to discover which interventions can be successfully replicated in other historic market towns.