There are two issues before us which appear separate, but which are actually closely related. There has been quite a bit of publicity in recent times about the level of air pollution in Marlborough. It’s reckoned to be one of the six most polluted towns in Wiltshire.
This is a very serious issue. Outdoor air pollution represents a serious risk to health. An assessment conducted under the auspices of the World Health Organisation in 2013, concluded that it was a major cause of lung cancer. An association has also been observed with cancer of the bladder/urinary tract. The minute particles present in air polluted by the effusions of the internal combustion engine also cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
Particulate matter is one of the two most harmful traffic emissions in Marlborough. It effects more people than any other pollutant. Its main components are sulphate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water. It is not a good idea to have any of these substances in your lungs, including the water, which would contain all these trace elements. Such pollution has impact on health even at very low concentrations.
The second major pollutant in the Marlborough air is Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), a toxic gas which causes significant inflammation of the airways. Studies have shown that symptoms of bronchitis in asthmatic children increase with long term exposure to NO2 above the recommended safety level. Reduction in lung function growth amongst children is also a product of such air pollution. Levels of NO2 pollution have been monitored in Marlborough at six different sites and the results do not make happy reading. Five of them exceed the Government’s recommended limits. One was, frighteningly, 250% over that limit on ten occasions in the first three months of 2016.
The other issue concerns car parking. Marlborough Town Council has commissioned a review of car parking facilities in the town as part of the research towards the creation of the Neighbourhood Plan. ‘The overall aim is to provide a detached, independent and comprehensive report which can be used as an evidence base for any future policies.’ This is right and proper.
To start discussion on a factual basis, rather one based on received opinion is very important. Hopefully, it will give an opportunity to analyse and balance the various competing factors: residents, workers, shoppers and visitors. I do think that there should be designated areas for the much-put-upon residents though. It would make sense to have designated areas in the existing car-parks rather than on the streets.
Whatever the findings of the survey, it will be necessary to place them into perspective against the clear and largely unseen environmental crisis that is engulfing the town. It’s clear that, at certain times, the town has reached saturation point and health and well-being are being threatened by this. Marlborough was designated as an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) as long ago as 2010. This obliges the local authority to monitor air quality in the town, to prepare regular action plans to inform the Highways Agency of the nature and the extent of the problem and to define the role it needs to take in relation to air quality improvements.
The local authority is also obliged to refuse developments that lies within or adjacent to a AQMA unless measures are taken to mitigate air pollution. Of course, the proposal to make all cars emission free will go a long way to solve the issue of urban pollution and the resultant detrimental effects, but, given the timescale, how many of us will live to see it? .