Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Town is overlooked in plan to cut pollution

HENLEY has been largely ignored in a plan to cut pollution from exhaust fumes.

HENLEY has been largely ignored in a plan to cut pollution from exhaust fumes.

South Oxfordshire District Council admits the town’s traffic issue is “very complex” so it hasn’t put forward any specific measures for Henley, where pollution levels have exceeded official limits for more than a decade.

By contrast, the draft low emissions strategy suggests measures for both Watlington and Wallingford.

The document, which was drawn up by environmental consultants Ricardo Energy, outlines ways to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide and fine particulates such as soot, which are the most harmful substances produced by petrol and diesel vehicles.

It says vans and heavy goods vehicles create a “significant” element of transport emissions across the district.

In Henley, the levels of NO2 in parts of Duke Street, Hart Street, Market Place, Bell Street, Greys Road, Friday Street and Reading Road are 50 per cent higher than Air Quality England’s target limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

The document suggests general measures to reduce pollution in South Oxfordshire as a whole, such as promoting “low emission behaviour” by encouraging people to buy electric or hybrid cars and to switch off their engines when stationary.

It says developers should be required to invest in cycling and walking facilities as well as charging points for electric vehicles and employers should encourage staff to cycle to work or use public transport.

It makes no specific recommendations for Henley but says these measures would benefit the town by reducing pollution to below the target level in every street except Duke Street, which would “remain a problem”.

By contrast, it recommends specific measures for Watlington, which it says would reduce NO2 level by more than 35 per cent, 10 per cent below the target limit. These include:

• Removing on-street parking on Couching Street and Shirburn Street to create “freight clearways” so goods vehicles and cars don’t end up queuing.

• Tougher enforcement of the town’s 7.5-tonne weight limit as HGV drivers often use it as a shortcut to the M40.

• Clearer signage and more patrols using automatic number plate recognition technology. Residents of South Oxfordshire will be consulted on the document, probably from next month.

Councillor Tony Harbour, the district council’s member for environmental health, said: “The causes of the air quality problems in the three towns are different so the actions to try to help will also be different.”

A South Oxfordshire District Council spokeswoman said: “The low emissions strategy is just one of many actions included in our air quality management plan.

“The traffic issue in Henley is very complex and it’s not possible to single out a specific measure to relieve air quality problems, unlike in Wallingford and Watlington, which is why there aren’t any actions specific to Henley that will have any significant impact on emissions in the town.

“Bearing this in mind, many district-wide actions in the document will also take place in Henley as well as across South Oxfordshire as a whole.”

But Stefan Gawrysiak, a Henley town and district councillor, said the failure to suggest ideas for Henley was a “glaring omission”.

He said: “It was admitted that Henley is a ‘tough nut to crack’ and therefore only limited strategies were brought forward.

“I said if Henley is a tough nut to crack then we must at least make a start. If people knew there wouldn’t be a long wait, they’d be much more willing to take the bus and this would decrease reliance on cars within the town.”

He has proposed a series of bus routes that would connect Henley’s outlying residential areas with the town centre to discourage people from driving. These would run every 15 minutes and use “low-emission” vehicles. He also wants a 7.5-tonne weight limit to reduce HGV traffic.

Councillor Gawrysiak said: “HGVs account for three per cent of traffic through Henley but are responsible for more than 30 per cent of its air pollution, so that’s an obvious area for action.

“A 7.5 tonne weight limit wouldn’t affect Henley’s businesses as they could be served by smaller vehicles and it would reduce pollution significantly. These things should be in the consultation so residents can at least say whether they like them or not.”

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