Sunday, 14 August 2022

Shops urged to shut doors to keep out air pollution

SHOPKEEPERS in Henley are being urged to shut their doors to save energy and protect staff and customers from air pollution.

Environmental campaign group Henley in Transition is to invite retailers to take part in the national Close the Door campaign, which was launched in Cambridge five years ago and has since expanded to seven other towns and cities.

It is supported by businesses including Waitrose and politicians from all parties, including Foreign Secretary and former Henley MP Boris Johnson.

Each store that signs up will be given a display sticker explaining to customers why its doors are closed and that the business is still trading.

David Dickie, a member of Henley in Transition, is pursuing the idea in response to the air pollution in the town centre, where the levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide are one-and-a-half times the maximum safe limit recommended by Air Quality England.

Mr Dickie, of St Katherine’s Road, Henley, said: “It won’t make everything better by itself but it is a powerful signal that something needs to be done. If people see that lots of shop doors are shut, they will want to know why and that will raise awareness of the problem.

“It’s about protecting staff and customers in much the same spirit as the 2007 smoking ban. You can’t see the pollutants that are emitted by vehicles but it’s a far bigger public health issue than smoking, which is adults making their own decisions to some extent whereas this is something we’re forcing on our children.

“Diesel cars are a big problem, especially as we have so many in Henley whether that’s the large number of motorists in 4x4s or buses, lorries and taxis idling their engines.

“I hope this campaign will make people question whether they really need a diesel vehicle as even the latest models are over four times more polluting than their petrol equivalents.

“It makes sense from a business perspective because it’s quite apparent from surveys that shops will not survive if air quality issues aren’t addressed. It makes shopping an unpleasant experience and drives customers online.

“Retailers may feel they have to keep their doors open so that their premises feel welcoming but it’s a two-way street as that makes it easier for customers to walk out. If the door is closed, retailers have a chance to engage with customers who are more likely to purchase something.

“I imagine it will be a struggle at first because I walked around the town centre the other day and saw 17 shops with their doors open, so it’s clearly a well-ingrained habit.

“However, the more publicity this gets, the more businesses will hopefully appreciate the potential benefits.”

Henley was designated an air quality management area by South Oxfordshire District Council in 2002 but since then pollution levels have steadily risen.

Mr Dickie claimed the town, district and county councils had done too little to tackle the problem.

He said: “They’ve done nothing — they say they’re studying it but unless you take action that directly affects people you won’t see any change. I’ve never heard anyone discuss it with a real sense of urgency.”

Henley Mayor Julian Brookes said Close Your Door was an “excellent initiative” that should be encouraged.

He said: “It will save energy and keep customers warm in the winter while protecting them from pollution all-year round.

“We should support multiple measures to address pollution. There’s no single ‘magic bullet’ and, if there was, one of the councils would have implemented it a long time ago. If this reduces levels by a few percentage points, it will be worth pursuing.

“I am also very keen to introduce a ‘kill your engine, not your neighbour’ campaign as switching off your engine for as little as 10 seconds is enough to make a difference.

“There will be lots of little things like this which will add up. It will be a long-term battle but air quality is one of the most important topics that our transport strategy group aims to address.”

Henley town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith said: “I think businesses can be encouraged to take it up. I understand why they want to keep their doors open but the downside is that they lose energy by doing so.

“This must be good for businesses in the long run, even if they have to invest in more glass so that people can see inside. It will cut air pollution from power stations by reducing energy usage at the source.”

Henley town manager Helen Barnett said:“I would like to see more research conducted and then we will see how many of our businesses we can get on board with it.”

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