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Roads to Nowhere

Legal warning over pollution impact of roads

Sian Berry's picture
Smog in London by StuMayhew on flickr

18 October 2013: Air pollution is becoming a major issue for campaigners, with new roads across the country threatening to make even more people breathe air that's over legal limits.

October has been a busy month for road consultations and planning processes – something we can unfortunately expect to see even more of soon. In recent weeks our campaigners have been submitting objections to the South Bristol Link, the A556 Knutsford to Bowden scheme in Cheshire and the A14 in Cambridgeshire, provided evidence for an inquiry in parliament on the strategic road network, and given advice to a packed local public meeting in London.

Three of these proposed schemes will put new carriageways through greenfield land around cities and two new river crossings for traffic are proposed for East London. Far from easing the pressure on city streets, these plans will (like all new road building) stimulate new car trips and traffic across a wide area, filling up already busy roads with yet more cars and pollution.

Since May this year when Client Earth won a significant victory with the UK Supreme Court ruling the Government was failing in its duty to protect people from the harmful effects of air pollution, we have been scrutinising road plans particularly hard for evidence that they will contribute to this serious legal breach. Unsurprisingly, we have found clear signs that all these new roads will make pollution worse for people already living with desperately poor air. 

In Bristol, where the Mayor has a range of policies to reduce traffic problems in the city centre, we point out that building the South Bristol Link to encourage more car trips will undermine these local policies and be a highly counterproductive use of public money. 

For the A556 scheme, we discovered that the Highways Agency's own assessments set out how the bypass and widening project would increase air pollution across a wide area.The Environmental Statement says:

"The scheme would attract more traffic than the existing A556, and would change traffic flows on other roads in the wider surrounding area. Air pollution at some properties near the new road and on the strategic route from the M6 south of the scheme into Manchester (via the M56) would increase to concentrations above the air quality thresholds as result of this scheme. The expected overall effects of the scheme on air quality are classified as significant adverse.

For the A14 – a huge and highly controversial proposed new toll road between Cambridge and Huntingdon – the effects on air pollution are likely to be similar. A Highways Agency consultation closed last week and there are no detailed environmental impact studies yet. However, the sheer numbers of extra lanes being built around or through existing Air Quality Management Areas at both ends of the scheme make it almost certain that parts of Brampton near Huntingdon and Bar Hill and Impington near Cambridge will be pushed over the legal limits.

A14 Count Points map - data from DfT Traffic Counts website We put our concerns about the A14 scheme in a report to the consultation and released this to the press on Wednesday, resulting in wide coverage, including ITV and BBC news and many local papers.

Cover of News Shopper 17 October 2013Also on Wednesday, a meeting in Greenwich to see the results of 'citizen science' pollution monitoring in areas that will be affected by traffic from the proposed Silvertown Tunnel was standing room only – read a report of the meeting, organised by the excellent No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign in the local papers and see their tweets from the meeting here

In London, two new road crossings are proposed, including a possible revival of the cancelled Thames Gateway Bridge at Gallions Reach. Earlier this month, campaigners north of the river presented the results of their monitoring project at City Hall, with a similarly strong reaction from local people who already suffer from some of the worst air in the country – read a report in the Guardian here.

With the Supreme Court decision this May and new evidence emerging all the time of the terrible effects of poor air (this week the WHO has classified air pollution from traffic fumes as a definite cause of lung and bladder cancer), interest in this serious public health issue has never been higher and authorities wanting to add new roads and new traffic to the problem need to take note and think again!

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