North Somerset air pollution levels already exceed new World Health Organisation Guidelines

North Somerset air pollution levels already exceed new World Health Organisation Guidelines, and will increase after the opening of the Banwell Bypass

Air pollution levels in Sandford, Churchill and Winscombe are set to go up after the opening of the Banwell Bypass, which could mean a 50% increase in air pollution from traffic 5 years after the bypass open, based on Department for Transport data on existing bypasses, and will be around double the current level, when the new housing near Banwell is built.

This is worrying, because there are so many homes close to the A368 and A371, as well as Sandford Primary School and the Churchill Academy walking route. Children and adults living in the 3 villages are already suffering health problems from air pollution, as they are in Banwell.

Also worryingly, the contractors appointed by North Somerset Council to plan the Bypass confirmed last week they have no plans to monitor air quality levels in any of the 3 villages most affected, although there are plans to monitor air quality in Banwell over a 6 month period. Banwell expects to have over 80% less traffic flow pollution after the bypass opens, but with traffic regrowth expected on the ‘old road’ 5-7 years later, air pollution remains a concern.

More greenery, and less cars, are the only two possible solutions the contractors mentioned, when pressed about air quality improvements for Sandford and Winscombe by residents at the Working Group meeting last Wednesday. This is not a good enough response, when we all know there will be thousands more cars coming through our villages, from the thousands of new houses planned to be built near Banwell.

We also know that air pollution causes around 36,000 a year premature deaths in the UK from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute breathing problem. Air pollution causes reduced lung growth in children, chest infections, and aggravated asthma affecting their development and general health, all based on studies reviewed by the World Health Organisation.

It’s wrong to say that because we don’t have an Air Quality Management Area, or a North Somerset Air Quality Action Plan, we don’t have an air pollution problem. It’s a myth to say air quality is bad in cities and good in the countryside. Many rural areas have pollution ‘hotspots’ around busy roads and junctions, and from industrial sources, discussed in the DEFRA ( Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Air Quality Guide.
North Somerset Council has to produce an Air Quality Annual Status Report by law, the last one available online being the 2018 Report. The Council carries out tests for nitrogen dioxide at 26 test sites, but not at Sandford, Churchill or Winscombe. The actual nitrogen dioxide readings are not given in the 2018 Report, so we cannot see if the 2017 readings are over the new World Health Organisation Guidelines or not . The Council has not published the later readings for 2018, 2019, and 2020 so far.

The Council doesn’t test for particulates, tiny particles which penetrate the lungs, and enter the bloodstream.. However, the Report comments: ‘ the background maps published by DEFRA indicate that the annual average background levels of PM2.5 in North Somerset are 7.6 μg/m3 , significantly below the EU limit value.’
The World Health Organisation guidelines recommend an annual particulate matter PM2.5 level of 5 ug/m3. The North Somerset reading at 7.6 ug/m3 is substantially over the recommended limit. , Health experts say there is no safe level for particulates from cars and diesel fumes, and nitrogen dioxide emissions from cars have harmful health effects, even if below the legal limit of 40 ug/m3, 40 microgrammes in a cubic metre of air. There are important questions here about action on air pollution levels which have yet to be answered by North Somerset Council.

In December 2020 a Coroner ruled that air pollution was a contributory factor in nine year old Ella Kissi-Debrahs death from acute respiratory failure, a landmark decision in the UK. This year, the new World Health Organisation Guidelines on tackling air pollution recommend lower air quality levels for 6 pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide and particulates. UK health experts have responded to the Guideline saying government action and attitudes towards air pollution need to change. Using the government pollution modelling from 2015, which judges have criticised as being over optimistic, 2,091 UK schools, nurseries, further education centres, and after school clubs, are within 150 metres of a road with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide. The British Lung Foundation, environmental organisations like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, community groups, parents groups like the Clean Air Parents’ Network, are backing increased action on air pollution and its health effect, sharing information through periodicals like Air Quality News.

So what are the options to reduce air pollution?

Nationally, The Department of Health and Social Care recently published its ‘Prevention is Better than Cure’ document

This mentions vaccinations, healthy lifestyles, not smoking, not being obese or drinking too much, and highlights local authorities’ role in local health improvement and getting people more physically active, which also has mental health benefits, as well as tackling air pollution:
Our mental and physical health is also shaped by the neighbourhoods we live in, including access to green space, community safety and cycling or walking routes.38 Air pollution poses one of the biggest environmental threats. It can worsen asthma and affect lung functioning leading to complications and unnecessary admissions to hospital. This is particularly the case for frail older people, and young children.39 According to modelling by Public Health England, if we reduce air pollution, over the next two decades we could prevent: 50,000 cases of heart disease, 16,500 strokes, 9,000 cases of asthma and 4,000 lung cancers.’

So how well will this advice about air pollution be received by North Somerset Council?

The Public Health England modelling shows an impressive health and social benefit, and also cost-benefit to the NHS, employers, businesses and potentially North Somerset Council’s massive social care budget, by avoiding the need for social care for people suffering years of ill health. Going on past decision making by the Council, ‘cost-benefit‘ considerations usually win the day. For well over 20 years Banwell people have been denied a solution to their congestion and air pollution problems on –‘cost-benefit’ grounds. The Council has now opted for a cheaper, shorter bypass plan around Banwell which will feed a very high level of traffic, at around the traffic level of a major A road once the new housing is built, straight onto the narrow village streets of Sandford, Churchill and Winscombe. It’s certainly more cost-effective than a longer bypass missing out all four villages, but it’s devastatingly expensive in community and human health terms, and also in ‘natural capital ‘ terms, which attaches a commercial value to natural assets like countryside, clean air and water, and biodiversity.

Tackling the causes of air pollution, and aiming for growth and regeneration.

The countryside, the AONB setting, the natural world, are what make people want to come and live in Sandford, Churchill and Winscombe, have their businesses nearby, visit and enjoy the natural amenities, spend their money here. The pandemic has shown us how valuable nature and the countryside are for mental as well as physical health and wellbeing. Not wasting that natural capital, which should be protected for future generations, should be a large part of the Council’s cost-benefit considerations. As the DEFRA Air Quality Guide puts it:
‘Growth and regeneration People sometimes imagine, mistakenly, that air pollution is a necessary consequence of economic growth. In fact, tackling air pollution can be a key element of growth and regeneration policies. Local businesses and town centres can benefit in many different ways from measures that reduce air pollution. For example, pedestrianisation and creating green spaces can improve a town centre’s appeal as a place to visit or do business.’

The need for a North Somerset Air Quality Action Plan

Although the public health aspect of air pollution is mentioned in North Somerset’s Annual Air Status Report of 2018, the emphasis is very much on the message that the Council is already tackling air pollution with carbon emission reduction measures, like replacing its fleet of passenger and light goods vehicles with electric versions, more electric vehicle charging points and hubs There is advice about car sharing , active travel, using public transport, upgrading domestic boilers, using smokeless fuels, but this is missing the point . Some of these measures which reduce carbon emissions, can also have a positive effect on air pollution, but not all. Driving cars, even electric cars, means releasing particulates into the air. The health impacts of air pollution need to be tackled directly, not as a bolt-on to measures to reduce carbon emissions and their climate change impact. Tackling air pollution in North Somerset should be a priority for the Council, because of the public health and social care cost implications.

The only way this can happen is if North Somerset Council, the Leader and the Executive members, Councillors, the Public Health directors and the accountants, get together and make this happen as a matter of policy. That means looking at the cost of air pollution from all angles, and putting prevention into Council policy, Council budgets, Council projects and Council action, and giving proper weight to cost benefit in human, social, community, environmental, and natural capital terms.

What other Local Authorities in the West of England are doing about air pollution.

As we know, Bristol is bringing in Clean Air Zones. In Bath and North East Somerset, the villages of Temple Cloud and Farrington Gurney are both in an Air Quality Monitoring Area, and both are having Air Quality Action Plans drafted, commissioned by their Council.
For Temple Cloud, implementing a width restriction for larger vehicles using a Traffic Regulation Order, and increasing the width of the existing carriageway to reduce the potential number of HGV passage incidents are being modelled, which are predicted to lead to substantial reductions in emission concentrations along the A37. For Farrington Gurney, ▪ Option 3: Construction of an additional lane on the A37 southbound approach to the A37/A362 signals; and ▪ Option 5: Construction of a small ‘compact’ type of ‘Normal’ Roundabout with single lane entries to replace the existing traffic signals were favoured.

These kinds of interventions are expensive, but far less expensive than a new road and bypass. BANES residents have been consulted about all the options.

With the Banwell Bypass, we know a range of options and modelling have been explored in the past, for other studies on reducing congestion in Banwell, Sandford, Churchill and Winscombe, notably in 2000. We have no idea what other options and modelling have been done for the current Bypass plans, because none of these have been disclosed to the public or consulted on by us. The decision to go ahead with what the 2000 Banwell Study calls a ‘partial bypass’ option is North Somerset Council’s decision alone, without public consultation on the full range of possible options. This goes against North Somerset’s Transport Plan, the Joint Local Transport Plan 4 provisions, which states that major projects have to have options explored, a feasibility study carried out and be publicly consulted on.

For us in Sandford, Winscombe and Churchill there is one practical air pollution measure we can all back. Slower speeds mean less air pollution emission, as well as less carbon emissions. That is why making sure we have 20 mph limits through our busy residential streets and past schools, nursing homes and other places vulnerable people are, is so important, as well as having the means to enforce those limits.


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1 Response

  1. P B says:

    Fossil fuel vehicles are being phased out, 5 years after the bypass is completed you won’t be able to buy a new diesel or petrol car. Air pollution will get better and better with time.

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