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Air pollution is a growing issue in the UK. While Shropshire is a county filled with idyllic rolling hills and green spaces, its urban environments aren’t immune from the effects of pollution.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth were among the pollution hotspots in the West Midlands and exceeded national pollution limits.
Now a project to monitor air pollution has received a funding boost. Shropshire Council secured over £50,000 of funding from DEFRA for an innovative project that aims to improve air quality in the two towns.
New Monitors to Help Highlight Areas that Need Action
DEFRA awarded Shropshire Council £53,300 to test Zephyr monitors and develop an air pollution map. The air quality maps of Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth will highlight areas which require action.
The Zephyr Monitors are low cost and used to monitor nitrogen dioxide and fine particles. The data will be used to help decision-makers balance air quality needs against other priorities.
Gwilym Butler, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for communities, place planning and regulatory services, said:
“We are delighted to have received DEFRA funding for our project. This work will not only help us towards fulfilling our statutory air quality management duties, but will also support the Shrewsbury Big Town Plan priorities for ‘Movement and Place’ which include making pedestrians priority in the town centre, cycle and pedestrian network and measures to reduce through traffic.”
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Impact of Pollution on Health
The news of the funding has come at a time of mounting evidence that pollution has a detrimental effect on health.
Concerns about air pollution have been in the news recently, with recent studies finding that air pollution from road vehicles is the cause of 4 million cases of childhood asthma diagnoses each year.
The UK is the worst in Europe with as many as one in five cases in the UK linked to traffic fumes and other fumes each year. This amounts to around 40,000 cases.
In the UK, air pollution can reduce your life expectancy by around seven to eight months. The Royal College of Physicians says that exposure to PM 2.5 has links to asthma, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer. There is also evidence that it is linked to low birth weight, diabetes, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s.
When particle matter is breathed in it can cause breathing difficulties. If this happens over a prolonged period of time then it can lead to heart and lung problems.
An expert linked the death of 13-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived in a highly polluted area in London, died in 2013.
Asthma and air quality expert Prof Stephen Holgate said: “there was a real prospect that without unlawful levels of air pollution, Ella would not have died.”
The government has since launched a clean air strategy which aims to cut the costs of air pollution to society by nearly £2bn every year by 2020. Outdoor pollution is contributing to around 40,000 deaths a year in the UK, according to the Royal College of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health.
What Causes Local Air Pollution?
In Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth, pollution is not helped by the shape of some of our historic towns.
According to a report by Shropshire Together, air quality legislative breeches in Shropshire are primarily down to vehicle emissions.
It said that the Shropshire town’s identities are that of historic market towns located in defendable positions. This creates bottlenecks at entry points to the towns where roads designed for horse and cart are now congested with motor vehicles.
The report also stated that: “Shropshire’s air quality concerns are found where several factors combine: where residential properties are close to the road, where there is a high volume of traffic, where there is a junction impeding traffic flow and congestion is likely, where there is an urban canyon (high buildings which enclose the street and stop pollution from dispersing). “
Nitrogen dioxide is the biggest cause for concern in built-up areas. Studies have shown that high levels of nitrogen dioxide impacts reduced life expectancy, although the cause of this has not been established.
Nitrogen dioxide hotspots are in Telford, Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury as well as being prevalent along major roads such as the M6. In rural areas, ammonia pollution is caused by agricultural processes.
Shropshire Bucking National Trend
While there are some areas in Shropshire where air pollution needs to be tackled, new figures show that the county is bucking the trend when it comes to air pollution.
Nearly 18 million patients across the UK are registered at GP surgeries with unsafe levels of pollution.
However, in Shropshire, there were no GPs in areas of unsafe air pollution. In the West Midlands, there are 1.4 million patients attending a surgery in areas that breach WHO air pollution limits, according to data analysis from UK100 and published by the British Lung Foundation and the NHS Digital Database.
What Can More Can Shropshire Do to Tackle Air Pollution?
Currently, Shropshire Council is continuing to take a number of actions to reduce pollution levels in our towns.
This includes the Shrewsbury North West Relief Road proposal and business case, to bring forward the infrastructure required to divert traffic around the town centre rather than through it.
Julian Dean of Shrewsbury Town Council has also highlighted a number of ways Shropshire could tackle climate change and air pollution.
He calls for the council to invest in clean vehicles for their fleets and those of its major contractors.
“Transport is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK,” he wrote.
“Whilst vehicles have got more efficient over the years, the miles covered have increased and so there has been no overall fall in greenhouse gases. Transport needs to be clean and the vehicle miles need to be cut.”
“Councils should be investing in clean vehicles for their own fleets and those of its major contractors. Veolia has trialled electric vehicles, so these should become a requirement as soon as feasible.”
He also suggested that planning policy should require developments to include covered secure bicycle parking; dedicated car-free routes on and off-site; high-quality public transport information such as live bus time information and electric charging points.
“In rural areas where bus routes remain unsustainable developers could be required to establish shared electric vehicle clubs or other schemes to enable sustainable transport,” he said.
Electric vehicle infrastructure is rapidly growing in urban areas but still remains poor in rural areas. But there are schemes to help businesses such as restaurants, hotels and sports clubs establish charging points.
He added: “Staff transport plans also need development. A sustainable transport allowance could replace free parking, with the added benefit of freeing up some land.”