Air Pollution In Devizes
It is shocking that air pollution in a small town like Devizes is so poor that a large area of the town centre has been designated an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in 2012. This is not a surprising outcome when we see car use rising and investment in alternatives such as cycling and bus use falling year on year.
Dirty air in the UK harms our health and causes tens of thousands of premature deaths every year. How does this translate for Devizes? Recent estimates of local mortality by Pubic Health England were based on long term exposure to micro particulate air pollution. The level can range from 2.5% to 3% in rural areas to over 8% in some London boroughs. But since these estimates are modelled on annual pollution averages the burden might be even greater than this. Those who are most vulnerable to the long term effects are infants and young children, as well as those already with lung and heart disease regularly using busy roads.
What are Wiltshire Council's duties?
The local authority is obliged to monitor and take action. A study was undertaken in 2012 which found that air pollution exceeded EU limits in several locations. The streets included in the Air Quality Management Area are marked on the map on page 23 of Wiltshire Council's Devizes report.
A Transport Strategy for Devizes was drawn up by external consultants. It concluded that it was not enough to wait for motorists to transfer to electric vehicles. Central to Wiltshire's plan was the reduction of traffic, diesel from vehicles at peak times and change public attitudes towards over reliance on commuting by car.
Wiltshire Council's Area Board for Devizes set up an advisory group to oversee the plans and a created a budget from developer contributions under Section 106 to mitigate traffic impacts of their developments. This money has paid for some recommendations such as the upgrading of the towpath surface where the Kennet and Avon Canal runs through the town.
What are we doing?
Sustainable Devizes is a community partner of the Air Quality and Transport Strategy group with others. It is our hope that we will see real change brought about from Wiltshire's action plan for Devizes but monitoring that progress has been frustrated. For example, there is a permanent real time analyser in Devizes that monitors nigtrogen dioxide and particulates (PM10) located by Roses roundabout in Sidmouth Street (See instrument above the grey box below) that feeds site information to a website, email or text for users who need to be alerted when pollution levels increase. The machine was out of order for several months and could not issue live reports until we made a fuss. It is now operational again.
Relying on developer contributions for well sign posted quiet cycle routes and excellent public transport will not be adequate. More funds will have to be found. National government needs to play a stronger role to ensure the resources are there to protect our health. We are not alone! Client Earth are challenging government through the courts and Campaign for Better Transport and Healthy Air are calling for a new Clean Air Act. Locally we need to make sure that the voice of small towns in a rural Wiltshire is heard. For that reason we are asking our MEP, Molly Scott Cato, to raise Wiltshire's profile in the EU whilst we are still a member. We have also met our MP Claire Perry asking for the EU laws to be fully adopted post-Brexit.