I asked to meet with two of the Vale’s Environmental Protection officers, to learn about the responsibilites we have at Vale with respect to air pollution and noise pollution. It was ultimately informative and I am happy I met these two officers, Tim Williams and Paul Holland, who work so hard to make a difference, when in many ways their hands are tied.
There are only two areas in the Vale where levels of NO2 sometimes exceed the EU threshholds: Marcham and Botley. Abingdon used to be probematic, but since the introduction of the one way streets in the town centre, pollution levels have remained below threshhold. Particulates used to be monitored, but there were never readings anywhere in Vale that were above threshholds, so they aren’t tracked anymore.
So Cllr Catherine Webber, councillor for Marcham, and I, councillor for Botley, met up with the Vale team to find out what Vale does about it.
Vale are required to monitor air quality and to report regularly to DEFRA. Their methods and reports are on the Vale website, here: http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/services-and-advice/environment/pollution/air-quality/how-we-monitor
If an area is designated as an Air Quality Management Area, Vale are required to create an action plan to improve air quality in the area. But they aren’t responsible for seeing that the action plan is carried out. Sadly, this is an area of un-joined-up thinking. There IS no body, apparently, that IS responsible for implementing the action plan. There are realistic obstacles: most often the action needs to be taken by another body, such as county, or highways agency. Action Plans are published after public consultations. A draft of the latest action plan is here: http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/services-and-advice/environment/pollution/air-quality
And finally, the Enviornmental Protection team are consultees on planning applications. They assess the risks to air quality of the proposed development, and the potential effects upon eventual inhabitants, and recommend mitigation when appropriate. They are dissappointed when decisions are taken that ignore the air quality recommendations.
This is a less mature area than air pollution. Although there are many studies coming forward now about how noise pollution affects health and mortality, guidelines publised by DEFRA are basically used to respond to complaints about noisy neighbours.
Vale protocols for including noise in the list of material considerations when determining aplanning application seem to be limited to what noise may be produced by the development or during its construction. It’s not clear that there are any policies in place to consider the effects of environmental noise on the eventual tenants of new homes, offices, or other developments. for example, why would we build new residences right up next to the NOISY A34? See the website: http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/services-and-advice/planning-and-building/find-an-application/comment-on-a-planning-application/material-planning-considerations. I need to inquire further
However, the Environmental Protection team are consulted on planning applications where noise might be an issue. They can recommend mitigation for expected noise levels related to a proposed development, such as triple glazed non-opening windows on sides facing noise, or placing balconies and gardens on the side away from the noise. (I look at the balconies on the new flats at the corner of Arthray Rd and Westminster Way and shake my head. How was that allowed to happen? A second floor balcony in a new building in the AQMA driectly overlooking the A34.)
New guidelines on noise pollution are vague when compared to old guidelines. It used to be, for example, that 50db was the limit for noise levels in a garden, but now guidelines say something vague like ‘significant observed adverse effect’. What is ‘significant’ is somewhat arbitrary, and a sourse of disagreement. Government policies and guidance are here: http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/blog/guidance/noise/noise-guidance/
I see those handy noise measurement gizmos cost less than £20 on amazon. I should have one. But it would take me to a whole new level of nerdiness to carry one of those around with me.
There is much work to be done.