(Link to Council Priorities: Character and Environment)
The Council’s Environmental Health Officer introduced a report that provided an update in respect of the Borough’s air quality, as reported in the 2019 Annual Status Report (ASR), together with the priorities for improving local air quality.
Under the Environment Act 1985, local authorities had a statutory duty to review and assess its air quality against the National Air Quality Standards. Where pollutant levels exceeded certain thresholds, an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) had to be declared and an Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) prepared detailing the measures to improve the air quality within the AQMA.
The Committee noted that there were at present seven AQMA’s located within the Borough namely, in Cobham, Esher, Hinchley Wood, Weybridge, and Walton on Thames High Streets along with Hampton Court and Walton Road, Molesey. It was acknowledged that these had been established due to exceedances of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), a primary pollutant, produced by motor vehicles. The air quality was continually monitored by two air quality stations located in Hampton Court and Weybridge High Street and by way of Nox Tubes at key locations across the Borough, which provide monthly measurements. The monitoring results were reported annually in the ASR to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The Committee was pleased to note that the ASR (based on the monitoring results of 2018) submitted to DEFRA in July 2019 had shown a general improvement in the Air Quality (NO2) within the AQMAs. Both of the Borough’s air quality stations provided real time NO2 levels and this information was accessible via the Council’s website.
In May 2016, the Surrey Air Alliance (SAA) was established and this was made up of officers from all eleven Districts and Borough Councils, including Elmbridge; Surrey County Council (SCC); and Public Health Services in order to work collaboratively to improve air quality within Surrey. The Committee noted the areas that had been prioritised within the ASR for 2019/20, the details of which were outlined in the report.
In respect of particulate monitoring, of which diesel motor vehicles and wood burning stoves was the principle source, the Committee noted that there was no current requirement for Local Authorities to monitor these particulates. Particulate pollution could have significant health impacts and in this regard the Council’s Environmental Services was to evaluate whether the addition of this monitoring would be of benefit within the Borough.
Following the introduction of the report, Members took the opportunity to ask a number of questions.
The Chairman enquired whether there had been any partnership work undertaken with local schools in respect of air quality awareness. The Environmental Health Officer explained that the SAA had undertaken a Surrey-wide ‘Anti-idling’ programme with 40 schools, including some located within the Elmbridge area, to inform drivers when dropping children at school to turn their car engines off rather than leaving them running during this time.
In respect of a question regarding what health impacts had been identified due to poor air quality and what was being done to address this, the Senior Environmental Health Officer explained that, following extensive national studies it had been established that there were no safe levels of air pollution and, although it had been noted that overall levels had been reducing, when the Surrey-wide air quality modelling project was complete the Council would have a better idea of what air pollution was being predicted and what could be done to aid further reductions. At the present time, local residents living in areas subject to high air pollution could sign up to the ‘AirAlert’ scheme whereby notifications would be sent directly via phone/email to advise them when air pollution levels in their area had increased to a moderate level or above. This information would enable the individual to make the right choices to minimise any potential impacts on their health.
In respect of the air quality monitoring data, one Member enquired whether the Council had any specific figures where the level of air pollution had ‘spiked’ to its highest level. The Environmental Health Officer advised that the Council did have this data however to her knowledge, she was not aware of any areas within the Borough where this had occurred. However, the modelling being undertaken would provide a better insight in to areas that may be of concern.
With regard to particulate monitoring one Member asked whether a decision had been made as to any future evaluation of this information. The Environmental Health Officer advised that she was hopeful this would happen, but no decision had been made at that time. As a follow up question, a Member commented that given the concerns raised in respect of the third runway at Heathrow Airport, it was important that particulate pollution was monitored, and they urged that this be taken forward. In response, the Environmental Health Officer advised that the monitoring equipment required to undertake particulate monitoring was expensive to purchase and whilst it enabled the monitoring of PM10 and PM2.5 particles, it would not monitor ultrafine particles of which aircraft typically produced. Furthermore, there was a possibility that one of the other authorities, as part of the SAA would be investigating this area of air pollution.
One Member enquired whether it would be possible to undertake an air quality monitoring exercise outside of one of the Borough’s schools, ideally not located on the main road, both early in the morning to see what the air pollution was like at that time and then again at drop off times. It was considered that this would then obtain a good comparison of what was exactly happening to the air quality and could be used as a guide for all schools and aid air quality education.
One Member commented that for a number of years, the residents of Oxshott and Stoke d’Abernon had raised concerns about the impact of air quality on the A244, one of the busiest roads within the Borough, which linked the M25 to the A3. The Environmental Health Officer acknowledged the concerns that had been raised by local residents in this regard and advised that they were awaiting the results from the modelling project to establish if there were any specific issues identified in the area before taking further action. In response, the Member requested a firm commitment for the installation of Nox tubes to monitor the air quality within the A244 locality ideally by the end of the year.
Given that when the M25 or A3 was closed due to traffic issues, diversions were regularly put in place with the traffic being re-routed through the Weybridge High Street area, potentially increasing the amount of air pollution that was already present on these busy roads, one Member enquired whether it was possible that alternative routes could be identified to minimise the increased traffic and pollution levels through those areas when these issues arose. The Chairman advised that this would be the responsibility of Surrey County Council and this matter could be raised at the Elmbridge Local Committee for consideration.
One Member enquired whether there was a map available that provided the location of the Nox Tubes within the Borough. The Environmental Health Officer explained that this was present with the Council’s Annual Status Report 2018 and was accessible on the Council’s Website (www.elmbridge.gov.uk/pollution/local-air-quality).
Following an in-depth question and answer session, the Committee discussed a number of recommendations for consideration by Cabinet. In addition, with regard to the question of whether alternative diversion routes could be identified when major road closures occurred as this was the responsibility of Surrey County Council, the Chairman in her capacity as a Surrey County Councillor, agreed to raise this matter with the Elmbridge Local Committee for consideration.
Accordingly, the Committee
Agreed, that the requirements on Local Authorities under the Local Air Quality Management Framework and the current air quality data as reported in the 2019 Annual Status Report along with the priorities for improving local air quality be noted.
Recommended : that
(a) air quality monitoring be undertaken outside a school located within the Borough, but not near a main road and that has its own air quality monitoring equipment, to obtain comparisons on how clean the air was before and after school drop off times. This would then create a benchmark figure that could be used when educating other schools in this regard; and
(b) a commitment be given for the installation of Nox tubes to monitor the air quality within the Oxshott and Stoke d’Abernon area specifically in the A244 locality ideally by the end of the year.