EWalker presented the update, noting the impact of air quality and the Council's duty to monitor this. Any exceedances are dealt with by the declaration of air quality management areas and action plans with objectives set to assist and reduce these exceedances. Three air quality management areas have been declared as (1) Lawn Lane, Hemel Hempstead, (2) London Road, Apsley, and (3) High Street, Northchurch. These were declared in 2012 due to an exceedances for nitrogen oxide ("NOx"), primarily due to contributions from road transportation services. Levels in Lawn Lane and London Road have consistently remained over objective levels, though levels in Northchurch have shown compliance over the last 5 years.
With the onset of the Covid pandemic, the government instruction to stay at home translated into substantial improvements in NOx levels in Lawn Lane and London Road, those these reductions are being treated as exceptional and directly linked to pandemic restrictions. Levels for Northchurch have remained compliant post-lockdown.
Priorities over the last 2 years have been in relation to responding to the impact of Covid-19 and Environmental and Community Protection officers were redeployed to functions relating to the pandemic. Opportunities to progress actions to improve air quality have therefore been limited, though there is now a focus on this with the re-initiation of the Air Quality Steering Group.
EWalker proposed the revocation of Air Quality Management Area 3 at Northchurch in consultation with Defra. EWalker stated that they are confident that future exceedances of objective levels in Northchurch are unlikely and therefore recommended that the content and progress of the air quality action plans be noted and that agreement be given to rescind the Air Quality Management Area in Northchurch, as well as agreeing to widening air quality monitoring to include PM2.5 using portable units.
Cllr England commented that air quality requires a wider perspective beyond the 3 areas and he noted his disappointment that the report focuses on these. Cllr England noted that air quality across the borough could be improved. Cllr England also noted that current UK levels are set higher than suggested levels and that he would have liked to see this referenced in the report.
Cllr England referred to the raw data report that was sent to Defra and noted the mention of Marlowes and Queensway. Cllr England quoted page 22 of the data report, noting that new sites were introduced in 2020 to consider areas not previously identified under previous rounds of review, and that on page 7 it states that the Council also identified a new potential area of exceedance as a result of new monitoring. Cllr England noted that this new area is not mentioned in the report, and that the report states that the proper way to improve air quality is having fewer cars in the worst areas. Cllr England queried why the new exceedance was not mentioned in the report.
The Chair summarised Cllr England's comments as querying the criteria by area 3 and where the criteria is of adding Queensway as a new area.
CCorkerry commented on Queensway, noting that the 2022 report focuses on 2021 data. Queensway was the only point showing exceedances and that for 2023 they will be looking at how far this issues goes. 3 tubes in areas well below urban background levels are being deployed to Queensway Old Town High Street. CCorkerry that they would normally expect 3 years of exceedance before Defra would expect them to declare an Air Quality Management Area.
Cllr England acknowledged the response and suggested that the discovery of a potential new Air Quality Management Area should have been highlighted in the report. CCorkerry confirmed that this is being looked into further and why they are seeing this exceedance and confirmed that it would be included if the exceedance continues.
Cllr Anderson referred to Cllr England's comments and asked officers to provide clarity on whether Dacorum has a particular air quality issue or shares similar issues to other local authorities. EWalker advised that some local authority areas are an entire air quality management area, and whilst Dacorum has 3 small distinct areas, you would expect better air quality than more built up areas. EWalker confirmed that the issue is pursued closely with the Air Quality Steering Group to look at the air quality management plan, though this is not an issue that DBC can deal with in isolation. Traffic is the largest pollutant and this sits within HCC, which has its own plans, and whilst DBC can influence this, there is a limit to how much they can push their own agenda. CCorkerry commented that Dacorum's readings are rated as 'good'.
Cllr Stevens commented on health concerns and the investment in mobile pollution detectors, noting that they are 95% accurate, and that there are problems where there are high concentrations of traffic. Cllr Stevens referred to the intention to widen the monitoring stations looking at smaller particles and confirmed that they would be writing to HCC to request a monitoring unit to be put onto the high street.
Cllr Stevens noted that the report was written last year and advised that the WHO has updated its guidance on safe levels of pollution. The limit on PM2.5 has dropped from 10 to 5 microns per cubic metre, compared to 20 in the UK, and Cllr England stated that they could not reach global limits in the short-term without banning cars. Cllr England commented that they need to look at diverting people away from busier roads and stated that he would have liked to see in the report how pollution is being considered.
The Chair noted that a number of items are outside of the remit of DBC and asked officers to respond on what actions it is taking. TPugh commented on health impact, noting that they need to consider both the levels measured and the exposure of the individual. TPugh confirmed that they work closely with HCC. EWalker added that they do aim to influence national policy with one of their officers, DCarr, on the UK panel for best available techniques for air quality. It was also noted that DBC chair the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire Air Quality Officers Group and this is used to try and influence partners, such as HCC, and HCC also sit on the Air Quality Steering Group.
Cllr Stevens recognised that regulations are set at a national level, though the minister is refusing to update them to recommended guidelines.
Cllr Banks commented that members could be petitioning county councillors given that they are the decision makers on this and ensure that they are making councillors of their concerns and demands for action.
TPugh noted that DBC take actions though the local plan.
Cllr England stated that they can take local action, such as through planning, though they have seen increased housing development and greater car use. Cllr England noted that since 2021 he has been the councillor for part of Apsley, and suggested that he, along with Cllr Maddern, speak with the team to see what further actions can be taken.
Cllr England referred to page 46 of the report and the recommendation to relocate bus stops in Northchurch. Cllr England noted that Northchurch has now been identified as less of a concern and asked if they could therefore look to relocate bus stops in Apsley. Looking at the other recommendations, Cllr England agreed that they should consider Clean Air Zones again, though there is a bus driver shortage and the decreasing confidence in bus travel was noted.
Cllr England noted the mention of action on climate emergency within the report and stated that the report is referring to someone who is no longer at DBC.
Cllr England queried when the government is expected to release its Transport Decarbonisation Plan. No response was given.
Cllr England asked why electronic monitoring equipment is in Northchurch when it should be in Apsley. CCorkerry confirmed that they successfully obtained a £40k capital bid, of which £23-28k is the reallocation of the Northchurch analyser, and they are looking at 2 potential locations in Apsley with the most suitable location being outside the community centre. Another part of the capital bid will be used to purchase 3 Zephyr air monitors that are solar powered, and though they are not as accurate as real-time monitors, they provide information on NOx, PM2.5, PM10 and PM1, and 1 of these will be placed in Northchurch to ensure that levels are monitored, and the other 2 will put on Lawn Lane and Apsley. Monitors will also be provided by HCC and 3 locations have been highlighted, including outside a school, and handheld analysers will be sent out to schools so air quality can be covered as part of the curriculum.
A comment was raised regarding the bridge repairs where it was noted that there was an option to make this a 2-way bridge, which would have considerably reduced congestion on Apsley High Street. It was noted that DBC need to continue as best it can to prevent situations such as this occurring again.
Cllr Foster commented on the local plan for Berkhamsted, noting that traffic and sustainability don't appear to be part of this, and asked if numbers of cars are considered as part of planning. ARobinson noted that the NPP provides a broad framework for assessing transport proposals, though the bar is very high. ARobinson explained that they worked closely with HCC to develop the strategy to try and move as many people away from private car use, though this is challenging in Berkhamsted. As planning applications come forward, developers will be required to produce transport assessments and metrics are used to calculate trips, and ARobinson stated that he was unsure if this data is used to create a particular figure. It was noted that any major development will ask for an air quality impact assessment that involves air quality monitoring based on the types of houses and the number of estimated cars. Mitigation will be discussed, such as air source heat pumps and EV charging.
Cllr Foster asked if there is any legislation in place that allows them to insist on heat pumps. CCorkerry stated that they can only suggest it. ARobinson added that, as the local plan develops, they are able to develop policies more than they can at present and they can look to introduce additional obligations.
Cllr Foster noted that parents often ask about pollution at lower levels, such as at buggy level, and asked if this is measured. CCorkerry stated that this is where handheld devices can be used, though current legislation is to measure at 2 metres and to consider long-term exposure.
Cllr Foster commented on EV charging and asked if they receive government funding for on-street charging points. CCorkerry advised that this is currently being managed by Climate Change and Sustainability officers as part of the restructure. Cllr Foster noted that potential sites for EV charging have been identified and commented that they have been previously been told that this is managed by HCC. CCorkerry stated that colleagues in the Climate Change and Sustainability team can now influence this more through their own steering group, though the decisions still sit with HCC.
Cllr Taylor commented that he was at the HCC Highways and Transport Committee and that they had stated that EV charging was down to district councils and they would be allowing on-street charging, and it was noted that they indicated they would be allowing a pilot to allow residents to have some form of trunking across pavements if they could park their cars outside their houses to connect cables there.
Cllr Taylor referred to planning in Berkhamsted, noting that the previous draft of the local plan proposed to put around 2,200 houses on the edge, and this will put extra cars on the road. The current road layout means that almost every route will go through a set of traffic lights in the centre of town and Cllr Taylor said he was unsure how anyone would avoid using these routes. Cllr Taylor asked that the 'severe harm' trigger be clarified. ARobinson referred to paragraph 111 in the MPPF, noting that developments should only be prevented or refused on highways grounds if there would be an unacceptable impact on highway safety or the residual cumulative impacts on the road network would be severe. ARobinson confirmed he would circulate the document.
Cllr Taylor advised that there is an opportunity with the local plan to address such issues, such as requiring developers to plant twice as many trees as they are removing.
Cllr England advised that the Committee were being asked to note the report. Given the level of discussion, Cllr England suggested that the comments be provided to the teams. The Chair noted that it was an update report and that comments made would be included in the Cabinet report. Cllr Banks confirmed that she would capture the comments from the meeting and ensure they form part of the presentation to Cabinet, and it was noted that members could also attend Cabinet.
Cllr England referred to TPugh's comment regarding exposure to pollutants and he noted the row of maisonettes along London Road that are covered in soot. It was noted that if any residents consider their health to be impacted by their accommodation then they should speak to housing officers.
Cllr England asked what would be done in relation to workplace parking. TPugh noted that this has been explored and they are arranging a review of the Leyland area. This will come under the place portfolio and will sit alongside the local plan with a number of proposals on how Leyland should be developed.
Cllr Foster agreed that developers should be asked to plant more trees and asked that, if brought in, this needs to be enforced.
Cllr Beauchamp asked that they ensure there are bus bays available if they are considering moving bus stops.
Cllr Beauchamp commented on zoning, noting that they try to limit the number of cars by bringing in parking standards, though they can't limit the number of cars people own and use across the borough. Cllr Beauchamp noted the success of Brighton's bus service and suggested that they look to replicate this.
The Committee noted the report and the recommendations of the report.