Thursday, 24 May 2018

The blight of air pollution

HENLEY’S tourism industry is being damaged by the town’s air pollution problem.

HENLEY’S tourism industry is being damaged by the town’s air pollution problem.

Visitors are being discouraged from returning because they are put off by the effect of traffic fumes, according to an environmental health campaigner.

And a councillor says that visitors are “stepping into poison” when they arrive here.

The claims follow the Henley Standard’s story two weeks ago revealing that a man with asthma is selling his home of 25 years because the pollution is making him ill.

Mike Stanton, 70, said he suffers asthma attacks when he walks the few minutes from his house into the town centre.

Other readers have contacted us to say how the pollution is affecting their lives and, in some case, their children’s.

The levels of nitrogen dioxide in parts of Henley are 50 per cent higher than Air Quality England’s target limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre and its impact, particularly on young children, has sparked concerns.

Sarah Miller, who lives in Reading Road, says her five-year-old twins, Vivien and Ruby, suffer prolonged coughs because of the air they breathe.

She said: “The coughs don’t go, they can last months. I’m sure it has got to do with the air pollution in Henley.

“I don’t want them to get asthma but it probably will happen. I am concerned for them. Pollution stunts lung growth and the problem doesn’t seem to get any better.”

Ms Miller, who is a town councillor, blamed heavy goods vehicles using the town as a “rat run”.

“You get the lorries coming in and some of them don’t even seem to be delivering,” she said. “We need to regulate it somehow. I think the council should lead on this. It’s just finding a solution — we have a duty to look out for Henley and get the ball rolling.

“You can more or less feel the gunk when you spend time in Bell Street, Greys Road and Duke Street and at the end of Reading Road with the traffic lights. I’m quite amazed at the filth that you get on the windows andwindowsills.

“I have to have all my upstairs windows shut. I’ve got a window cleaner who comes once a month but he should come every week except I can’t afford it.

“In the old days it would be the hops from the brewery you could smell, now it’s the fumes.

“It’s grubby and it’s affecting people — it’s affecting me and it seems to be affecting my kids. It’s concerning because we’re in Henley, not central London.

“We’re going to have more kids off school with various illnesses because of the pollution. It will affect people living here, property prices, children’s health and adults’ health.

“People are not going to want to stay in our town because of this. It would be the worst possible scenario, people just upping and saying, ‘we can’t stay here any longer’.”

Jim Stoner says he and his wife Val have considered selling their home near the town centre because the pollution causes him breathing  problems.

The couple have lived in the area for 60 years and moved to their current home from Rotherfield Greys 10 years ago.

Mr Stoner, 78, who used to be a rower and a long-distance runner, said: “Since moving here my breathing has got progressively worse.

“I have difficulty in filling my lungs up and I get breathless. It saps my energy and I’m not getting enough oxygen into my lungs.

“I think it’s caused by the idling traffic, particularly the trucks. Container lorries are now coming through the town so we experience that.

“They are going to build another 450 houses around Henley, which is going to produce another 1,000 cars. Now is that sensible? They are just making it worse. I think the people of Henley should make a stand on that alone.

“Our primary concern is the damaged being caused to people’s health, particularly children.”

Mrs Stoner, 77, said one way to combat the problem was to have trees and “living walls” in the town centre, which would absorb the deadly particulates released from vehicle exhausts.

“You can’t stop the traffic but we could plant greenery. Ivy and silver birch gobble up most pollution,” she said.

“I truly love Henley. With three other people I started the Be Well Centre and I’d like to stay. We have lived here all of our mature lives.”

Tim Richardson, 57, who runs the Henley Pet Shop in Bell Street, said the shop frontage was “filthy” as a result of passing traffic, which was frequently brought to a standstill. First thing in the morning there’s a queue and then again last thing at night,” he said. “We’re breathing this c*** in.”

Mr Richardson, who has lived above the shop with his wife Alex and the couple’s two daughters for 23 years, continued: “It all stems from Market Place being pedestrianised because all the cars that used to go through the town now go all the way around the edge and New Street isn’t designed for the volume of traffic it gets.

“The dirt seeps into everything. It’s not easy to clean because it’s a fine, oily film. It gets everywhere. It’s a constant battle.

“Everybody wants to blame the lorries but for me it’s the ‘Chelsea tractors’ and the Government saying everybody should drive a diesel car.

“There are more and more cars and more and more youngsters with cars. You’re living in a pipe dream if you think the cars aren’t going to come through the town.

“I don’t think there’s a solution, to be honest. The only way around it is a bypass but if you have one people aren’t going to come into the town and then it dies.”

David Dickie, of St Katherine’s Road, said he was also concerned about children’s health.

He is a member of environmental group Henley in Transition, which has called for a ban on diesel and heavy goods vehicles in the town.

Mr Dickie said: “The particulates from diesel are the key concern. Research shows that in really bad areas in London a child aged eight will have lost 20 per cent of its lung capacity. That then affects their education and intelligence attainments.

“South Oxfordshire District Council has been measuring nitrogen dioxide levels for more than 10 years and we do have peaks where we’re 50 per cent above the European maximum level but they have avoided measuring particulates.

“Nitrogen dioxide does affect the centre of the town where you have got this canyon effect but particulates affect wider areas and cannot be blown or washed away. They stay there on Reading Road, Northfield End and around the town hall, wherever diesel traffic is stationary with the engines running.”

Mr Dickie called for a programme for stopping diesel vehicles coming into Henley, as was being planned for London.

“We should have this solution in place before we build another 500 homes because 50 per cent of the vehicles are going to be diesel.

“If you go to Madrid three-quarters of the taxis are now the Toyota Prius vehicles — hybrids.

“If we do nothing people will just get more ill, that’s all there is to it. It’s going to affect more and more people’s health.”

Mr Dickie said he discovered visitors were being put off visiting Henley when speaking to guests from Wendover, Cookham Dean and Twyford at a farewell dinner for former Mayor Lorraine Hillier.

He said: “Each of them said ‘Henley is particularly bad’. It gave me the impression people would be reluctant to return to Henley once they had been because of the pollution.”

South Oxfordshire district councillor Will Hall said the council was taking the issue of air quality in Henley seriously despite criticism.

A recent report by environmental consultants Ricardo Energy for the council failed to come up with any specific recommendations for the town and Henley MP John Howell said it was “not worth the paper it is printed on”. Cllr Hall, who lives in New Street, said: “When people get off the train, rather than stepping into fresh country air, they are stepping into poison.

“The problem is goods vehicles using Henley as a cut-through because the emissions that come off HGVs make up the most dangerous part of the total emissions. We need to stop as many lorries using Henley as a short cut.

“I’m hoping to do that by talking to Oxfordshire County Council, which has the powers.”

Cllr Hall admitted the council’s current approach was “toothless” but said that the issue would be addressed in its corporate plan.

Town councillor Ian Reissmann said the district council’s figures showed that 33 per cent of the pollution came from three per cent of the traffic in the form of HGVs.

He said: “We can’t resolve the problem overnight but we need to make improvements.

“I think the single most obvious win is what the council asked the county council to do two years ago, which is to ban HGVs from the town centre. I think it’s a no-brainer, it just needs some political will.”

He said it was accepted that lorries needed to make deliveries but there were many coming through Henley with no business in the town.

Henley’s county councillor David Nimmo Smith, cabinet member for the environment, said Henley was not alone in having an air pollution problem but banning HGVs was not the solution.

“It just displaces them,” he said. “They will go on other roads and start affecting other villages. The county and the district have got to look at it in the round. There’s no simple answer that will satisfy everybody.”

He said the council wanted to make sure that HGV drivers’ sat-navs showed that Henley was a pinch point and that they should use alternative routes.

New buses and lorries should also meet the highest European standards on emissions.

Mr Howell said: “The biggest component of the problem is HGVs and I don’t think the Ricardo study addressed that.

“On the other hand it has got to be addressed in a constructive way. Simply banning HGVs will be counterproductive to people being able to live their lives in Henley.

“I’m looking for imaginative ideas from people who live in Henley — it doesn’t matter whether it’s a minority or not.

“I’ve every sympathy with people who are affected in this way by the air quality in the town, which is why I’m keen to work with the local people to come up with a solution.”

• Have you been affected by Henley’s air pollution? Let us know by calling David White on (01491) 419216 or email

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