Monday, 20 September 2021

Walls of plants could help fight air pollution problem

LIVING walls should be created to help tackle Henley’s air pollution problem, says an expert.

LIVING walls should be created to help tackle Henley’s air pollution problem, says an expert.

Plants such as ivy, which is in leaf all year around, can ingest huge amounts of particulates and could be used at pollution hot spots around the town, said Richard Francis, founder of environmental business Sensescape.

He suggested a pilot scheme and said: “This really comes down now to what is the priority for the town.

“I think having dirty air in your town is a problem.”

The level of nitrogen dioxide in some Henley streets is 50 per cent higher than Air Quality England’s target limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre, which has sparked concerns about the effect on residents, particularly young children.

Mr Francis, who lives near Henley, was speaking at a meeting at Phyllis Court Club organised by Val and Jim Stoner, of Wyndale Close, who are part of the pressure group Eco Henley, which works under the umbrella of Henley in Transition.

He suggested “clever use of plants and greenery”, such as a 1m high living wall in front of the Red Lion Hotel by Henley Bridge that would “eat” pollution and be an attractive feature for the building.

Something similar could  be placed by the bollards at the corner of New Street and River Side that wouldn’t spoil the view of the river.

Having a living wall at the junction of Greys Road and Duke Street was a “no brainer”.

Mr Francis said: “That really is a horrible part of town for air pollution. You can virtually taste it and it crunches between your teeth.”

He suggested having a 2m high wall of plants in Market Place in the shape of a Toblerone.

“My suggestion is we come up with a pilot site somewhere in town and then run that for six months and get quantifiable data from before and after,” said Mr Francis.

He demonstrated the technique, known as  phytoremediation,  meaning the use of plants for the removal, degradation, or containment of contaminants in soils, water or air, with a plant unit.

“It’s using all the bacteria around these plant roots to get rid of and ingest all the toxic particulates,” he said.

“A 2m panel will clean the air in here about every hour. It will suck out all the air and push new air out.

“A decent-sized wall will remediate up to a million litres of air a day. We’re trying to use technology and biology together.

“Being able to package plants in a really small space and suck in a huge volume of air and push it out very quickly, full of freshness and having taken out the ugly lumps and diesel fumes, is what you need in a town like Henley.”

A small, picture-sized unit would cost £2,000 to £3,000 and a big piece tens of thousands.

“Some will be more expensive because they’re doing a sophisticated job,” said Mr Francis.

“Henley is of particular interest to me because it’s a very small part of a very broad, bad jigsaw that’s getting worse in terms of environmental  pollution.”

He said pollution would have an impact on footfall in the town centre and people’s desire to live in Henley.

Mr Francis said that pollution levels were rising nationally as the population increased.

The causes included diesel sales, which had outstripped the sale of petrol since 2010, and cars having longer lifespans.

“The reason for putting this information up is that these diesel cars are going to be around for a very long time,” said Mr Francis.

“The cost to the NHS of diesel- related emissions is 10 times that under petrol emissions.

“We have a serious issue with it. This is something we cannot ignore any longer.”

The aim of Eco Henley is to reduce pollution in the town to acceptable levels. Other suggestions have included removing traffic lights in the town centre, installing roundabouts and placing restrictions on heavy goods vehicles.

Mrs Stoner encouraged people to tell their friends about the initiative and said she hoped Henley Town Council would contribute financially, adding: “They should do something about the health of the people in Henley.”

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