Marlborough’s air pollution problems have been taking centre stage in the debate on the town’s traffic issues. Last week, the town council’s planning committee (March 21) voted to support Transition Marlborough’s (TM) work on the issue – and it was a central part of the agenda at the next day’s meeting of Marlborough Area Board.
At the town council meeting, though there were some differences of emphasis, councillors gave broad support to the plans put forward by TM. It was agreed to send a letter to Wiltshire Council pointing out the urgency of the problem. And a letter to TM thanking them for their work and hoping for a closer working relationship on such issues.
The debate has been focused by the measurements from the air pollution monitor set-up by Wiltshire Council in the London Road at the start of the year. These showed alarming peaks of the dangerous particulates emitted by cars and trucks very close to St Peter’s Junior School – a point made strongly by Councillor Mervyn Hall. [Readings from the London Road particulates monitor can be found here.]
The main topic of debate amongst councillors was the possibility of de-priming the A346/A338. ‘De-priming’ would remove the roads from the National `Primary Route Network and allow restrictions to be put in place the prevent HGV’s using the roads as a ‘through route’ – that is those trucks not delivering within the area.
Councillor Guy Loosmore who had led an earlier attempt to de-prime the roads, told councillors: “De-priming was very complicated – it’s a long and tedious process – and would cost about £250,000.” The process was now, he said, simpler – it was ‘now an issue of the will to do it’.
Councillor Fogg backed up Councillor Hall’s point: “The situation is completely intolerable – there’s a danger to our people and children”. He thought a legal action against Wiltshire Council might be ‘one way to move things on’.
The Area Board has been told by Wiltshire Council that it is now responsible for air quality matters. At the meeting TM’s presentation reignited the air quality debate. It was said that the peaks shown by the monitor were so great that Wiltshire Council thought the equipment must be faulty. As it is, Marlborough’s air quality is about as bad as Croydon’s.
Wiltshire Councillor Phillip Whitehead (cabinet member for highways) was at the Area Board meeting – and heard TM’s presentation of its new report to the Board. His view was straightforward: “De-priming will not solve the problem.”
He believes that the Council’s plans for ‘dualling’ the more westerly A350 north-to-south route would take heavy traffic away from Marlborough: “Giving them a better route is the way to get traffic off the A3436.”
Two points were made against Mr Whitehead’s views: first that the HGV journey statistics he quoted were from 2006 and secondly that Wiltshire Council had not done a cost benefit analysis of the £250,000 cost of de-priming the A346/A338.
Councillor Stewart Dobson told the Area Board that while the town council supported many of TM’s proposals to counter air pollution, it did not support all of them – such as discouraging car parking in the High Street.
Councillor Nick Fogg thought that if de-priming reduced traffic by 25 per cent (as had been mentioned), then £250,000 was good value for money considering such results as savings to the NHS: “I support Transition Marlborough all the way. The problem is here and now – we live here.”
It was agreed to put the subject back on the Area Board’s agenda in six months time after Councillor Whitehead’s further talks on plans for the A350.
As TM have pointed out, Wiltshire Council has devolved responsibility for improving air quality to the community – which has no power to make the changes needed to significantly reduce toxic emissions in the town.
TM told Marlborough News Online: “It is clear that residents who live along the A346 and children who play in the playground of St Peter’s school, have been inhaling unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide and ultra-fine particulates for at least eight years. During this time WC has blocked all attempts to de-prime this road – which would enable restrictions on HGVs to be imposed.”
“Our only hope is that the Supreme Court – which last year ordered the government to draw up an air pollution cleanup plan – will oblige the government to extend ‘Clean Air Zones’ to all towns and cities that have unsafe air.”
Action for the River Kennet (ARK)
Before the TM presentation and the debate on air quality, ARK’s project officer & volunteer co-ordinator, Anna Forbes, gave the Area Board a well-illustrated and comprehensive report on the charity’s recent work and its future plans.
The headline was that, unlike Marlborough’s streets, its chalk stream was pollution free and in good order. And ARK’s volunteer brown trout nest spotters were ready for their spring programme of work.