Report of the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport
Members were informed that Air Quality Management activities in Staffordshire had been taking place for several years, but recently there had been an increased focus by central government on the potential harm caused by air borne pollution, particularly from motorised traffic. It was felt that it was therefore timely for the Committee to review current activities and be made aware of the developing agenda. Members were asked to contribute to the debate and suggest where the authority’s limited resources should be focused on in the future. They were informed that the authority’s current Climate Change Strategy “Green Shoots” would be refreshed over the next twelve months and would be expanded to take greater account of the wider sustainability agenda, including Clean Air. This strategy would be brought back to the Committee prior to being signed off.
In considering details of Air Quality Management Areas a member commented that they would like to see the Two Gates traffic lights area in Tamworth included, where the air quality has been monitored over a number of years. Whilst it has been judged within legal limits there was a high level of cases of asthma, and it was on the walking route of four main schools. It was suggested that a major contribution to the problem was parents driving their children to school, and that a possible solution would be to introduce no go zone around schools and encourage children to walk. A member commented that the structure for overseeing air quality management seemed rather bureaucratic and expressed concern that a lot of time can be spent talking about issues but not actually getting to grips with them. They queried whether there were any examples of how the process and the groups involved had delivered a success in reducing pollution. Members were informed that the Staffordshire Air Quality Forum was made up of representatives of the District and Borough Councils and the County Council. The activity that was delivered through the County Council had been mainly around infrastructure projects: changes to junctions; improvements to signals; new cycle routes. The direct impact of these schemes on air quality had not been measured to date. However originally there had been fifteen Air Quality Management Areas and now there were twelve. A member commented that there was lots of data, analysis and monitoring and questioned where the evidence was that the strategy was working. Concern was expressed that investment was being made in addressing air quality and the success and outcomes of this was not being measured. There were only so many interventions which could be made and it was important to identify those which were effective. Members were informed that the effectiveness of schemes was measured, around congestion, travel times and the value to businesses. Aside from highways and infrastructure projects, since 2011 behavioural change campaigns had been delivered, around trying to change how people travel, particularly around schools. In Tamworth a 17% modal shift had been achieved in getting parents and children out of cars and using alternatives.
In wide-ranging discussion members raised a number of local issues and expressed concern over delays in addressing pollution hotspots. It was suggested that the Environmental Protection Management Board could provide information on the success of schemes.
A member queried whether there were any long-term plans for urban tree plantations. Members were informed that the County Council had worked for a number of years with District and Borough Councils on tree planting. Members were informed that DEFRA had just produced a Clean Air Strategy, which wasn’t just about transport but also agriculture, industry and heating in homes.
Members discussed the importance of a county-wide planning strategy and agreed that as a highways authority there were things that could be influenced now, for example the narrowing of roads in housing developments. They also considered the role of central government in providing incentives or imposing restrictions to address the issue of air quality.
A member commented that there was not much mention of public transport, and that the bus service was in decline in North Staffordshire where it was reduced and unreliable, which was resulting in people using cars. There needed to be a county wide discussion with providers on public transport and how it all inter-connects and interlinks, with areas working together.
It was queried whether the County could take the lead on electric charging points being installed in every new property. In relation to Travel Plans, which were an integral part of planning approvals, concern was expressed that these often don’t come to fruition. This issue needed to be examined to establish a process over which the County Council would have a greater degree of control and be able to extract contributions from developers.
Members were informed that in respect of the Air Aware Campaign, if everyone does a little it would make a huge difference. In relation to electric vehicles, the Cabinet Member expressed the view that the more that could be done to make it easier for people to use these the better. However, the batteries needed to be improved and the vehicles needed to be readily available.
The Committee were informed that the County Council had been successful in putting in a joint bid with Stoke on Trent City Council and borough and District councils in Staffordshire for monies from the government’s Clean Air Fund.
With regard to the North Staffordshire Ministerial Directive a member commented that the County Council had a key role in finding a Highways and Transport solution to this and requested that the matter be reported back to a future meeting of the Committee. Newcastle Borough Council were opposed to a charging Clean Air Zone.
In relation to electric vehicles, members were informed that a feasibility study had been commissioned into when and if the County Council and Districts should be involved. The initial feasibility benchmarking study overwhelmingly indicated that Staffordshire was in the same situation as all of its neighbours, that electric vehicle take-up was fairly low, but it had more charging points than other areas. It also showed that because of the high disposable income in Staffordshire that people potentially could afford them. Whether the County Council should be involved in the market or not was yet to be decided. A lot of local intelligence had been gathered and this would be used to decide what the policy and the strategy would be. There was an issue over power and charging points at each new property, through the Section 106 discussions with developers it had emerged that the national grid could not support this. A further issue was that electric vehicles were not being manufactured quickly enough.
RESOLVED – That:
a) The Air Quality Management Areas in Staffordshire that are managed and monitored by the Borough and District Councils and the County Council be noted;
b) The progress being made with the current Air Quality Project that is funded by DEFRA be noted; and
c) The Air Quality Ministerial Directive that has been served on Newcastle Borough Council and Stoke on Trent City Council in relation to a number of roads in North Staffordshire be noted and that a further report be brought to a future meeting of the Select Committee.