The Committee considered a joint report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change and the Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth which provided an update on air quality across the county, primarily focusing on Durham City, where an Air Quality Management Area had been declared for nitrogen dioxide. The report also provided information on traffic measures to support air quality management (for copy of report and presentation see file of minutes).
David Gribben, Environmental Health Officer introduced the presentation and provided information on the monitoring results of local air quality management across County Durham for January to September 2022. The Committee noted the highest measured levels of nitrogen dioxide across the county were at hotspot locations previously identified at Gilesgate, Church Street and Hallgarth Street at New Elvet and Sutton Street and Colpitts Terrace, Crossgate. Properties at Menceforth Cottages, Chester le Street were found to be at risk of exceeding the air quality objective. The Air Quality Action Status Report 2022 reported the monitoring results obtained in 2021 and DEFRA accepted that it represented the local air quality across the county.
Members noted the Durham City Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) was adopted in June 2016 and in line with the guidance that AQAPs should be reviewed every 5 years, a project to review the plan commenced in 2021.
Information was provided on progress on the review of the plan which is being undertaken in three stages, with the first stage, modelling and source identification, being complete. The modelling showed the predicted levels of nitrogen dioxide will not comply with the annual mean air quality objective (40 µg/m3) by 2024 at ‘hotspot’ areas across the city, Alexandra Crescent and Sutton Street, Crossgate, Gilesgate, and Church Street and Hallgarth Street, New Elvet. The most significant sources of nitrogen dioxide emissions were found to be light goods vehicles, buses and diesel cars.
The Environmental Health Officer informed the Committee that the first stage of the review demonstrated that there would be no compliance with the annual mean objective by 2024 unless additional actions were implemented to target the sources contributing to air pollution. As a result, during the consultation stage, two additional options were proposed, the first being the micro consolidation of freight deliveries to and from the city to target the impact of light goods vehicles. The second being the introduction of emission based, variable parking charges for Council owned car parks within Durham city, which would take into consideration the polluting potential of vehicles. A key factor to success is to ensure actions are integrated with other strategies, policies and plans such as the Sustainable Transport Plan and the Climate Emergency Response Plan, both of which incorporate actions to benefit air quality. The Committee noted that further consultation with stakeholders was required prior to the options appraisal and completion of the plan.
The Environmental Health Officer gave information on the Government proposal for the introduction of a Population Exposure Reduction Target for fine particulates (PM2.5 – particles that have a diameter less than 2.5 microns). The review of the Air Quality Action Plan showed there are three receptors at which the predicted levels of PM2.5 will exceed the proposed air quality limit of 10 µg/m3 in 2024at Gilesgate, close to the roundabout. The sources contributing towards PM2.5 are the same as for nitrogen dioxide, with the addition of petrol cars.
The Head of Transport, Mark Jackson, provided details of measures put forward by traffic management to support the work in relation to air quality management. Measures include additional Park & Ride services, parking tariffs, the implementation of Sunday parking charges, optimisation of traffic signals to reduce queuing and implementation of walking and cycling initiatives. The Committee also heard of the transport and infrastructure traffic considerations such as extending the Park and Ride at Sniperley, walking and cycling improvements at Newton Hall and Framwellgate Peth and a city centre connectivity project. The Head of Transport also described traffic considerations relating to Integrated Passenger Transport including work with commercial bus operators to identify barriers to transferring to zero emission buses and incentives to increase bus usage.
Councillor Wilkes pointed out the danger that air pollution is a silent killer and to put the threat in context he highlighted that in the UK, approximately 1,600 people are killed in road accidents each year, while the number of people dying from the effects of air pollution each year is approximately 36,000.
Councillor Elmer expressed concern that the Government’s measure
for the designation of an Air Quality Management zone was four times the World Health Organisation’s recommended safe level. He recognised the activity to tackle the issues and stated his view that a step-change is required to transition from the use of private vehicles to public and active transport. Councillor Elmer pointed out that measures which have been implemented to improve air quality, such as junction improvements, road widening to enable traffic flow and signal improvements also make for a more comfortable environment for motorists and therefore may lead to induced traffic. He concluded by referring to European cities which are increasing provision for public transport and reducing road-space for cars.
The Head of Transport commented on interventions to encourage active transport and on a positive note he added that younger people are becoming more environmentally conscious. He gave the view that future funding should be targeted at measures which aim to reallocate road space for active and public transport. He commented that during the pandemic many members of the public moved from public transport to use private transport and he spoke of the difficulties in encouraging people to reverse their action and return to public transport. He suggested that success may be achieved gradually, by encouraging people to make small changes to their travel choices.
Councillor Adam recognised improvements had been made, however the impact of the pandemic had undoubtedly changed people’s behaviour and he commented that it was difficult to see how those who had changed their method of transport during the pandemic could be encouraged to revert to using public transport, particularly with the lack of funding for public transport and an unreliable service. He expressed the view that urgent action was required and whilst he was pleased to see the suggestions for improvements, he was concerned that the actions would take time to come to fruition.
Councillor Wilkes referred to the amount of good work being done and the need to tackle the wider plans for the county. He added that he hoped that the future would see less road building and more people choosing to use public and active transport. The Head of Transport gave examples of countywide work such as the additional EV charging provision and referred to the expectation that future funding will focus on wider interventions across the national highway network. The Committee commented that work must ensure that measures to tackle air pollution do not result in moving a problem from one area to another.
Clarifying a question from Councillor Quinn, the Head of Transport confirmed that there is currently no Park & Ride provision on Sundays. Councillor Quinn expressed his view that the hospitality sector in Durham thrives on Sundays and he suggested the council should consider a Park & Ride provision on Sundays.
Councillor Nicholls said the lack of reliability of public transport and the age of the fleet was a concern to him and it was difficult to see how the take-up of public transport would improve unless these issues were tackled. He added that it seemed that newer vehicles were being earmarked for city centre routes whilst older vehicles served the rural parts of the county; areas which would particularly benefit from the reliability that newer vehicles would provide. He observed the large amount of home to school transport journeys and he asked whether there had been any work done to reduce the number of journeys.
The Head of Transport explained that buses have a lifespan and therefore the fleet is managed to ensure that older vehicles are upgraded such as improvements to heating and the installation of wifi and air conditioning. In acknowledgement that older vehicles contribute to air quality issues, work was being done to ensure the fleet is as clean as possible. Responding to comments regarding reliability, the Head of Transport highlighted that bus companies were doing their best to disseminate information on cancelled services to the public as soon as possible. He added that many services had been cancelled due to a lack of drivers, however Durham was doing well to address the issue, that the recruitment of drivers had improved and cancellations were reducing. In addition, the bus service improvement plan was looking into the possibility of a cap on the maximum fare for young people.
Mr Walton, Co-opted Member asked various technical questions and due to time constraints, he agreed to email the questions for a response to be prepared by the Environmental Protection Manager. The questions and responses would be circulated to all Members for information.
Councillor Blakey, Chair of the General Licensing and Registration Sub-Committee informed Members that, at a meeting of the General Licensing and Registration Committee held on 17 November, the Committee agreed to recommend to full Council, the adoption of a new Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy which includes improved engine emission standards.
That the report be noted.
Councillor D Nicholls left the meeting.