[John Roseblade - Head of City Transport, to present a report on air quality]
The Head of City Transport introduced a briefing note on air quality. The latest statistics showed that 20,000 - 40,000 premature deaths nationally were linked to poor air quality, predominately caused by transport. Wolverhampton was a densely populated city with a road network dating back hundreds of years.
The Head of City Transport stated that in the Summer of last year DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) had produced an Air Quality Action Plan mandating certain Councils with the worst air pollution problems to formally report on how they proposed to meet EU Air Quality objectives. At that point the marginal authorities had not been included in the plan but following a challenge from Client Earth the High Court had issued a judgement stating the Government needed to take a stronger approach with the marginal authorities. The four Black Country Authorities were included in the definition. In March 2018 the Government issued a Ministerial Direction on the City of Wolverhampton Council requiring the consideration of measures to bring forward compliance with the EU directives in the shortest possible time.
The Head of City Transport stated that the Council were having to complete a feasibility study on the roads identified as being the worst offenders for poor air quality within Wolverhampton. It was also key that DEFRA realised some of the good work the Council had recently undertaken, including funding £1 million on cycle routes, the new metro extension and the potential for a new Wolverhampton to Walsall train line. The new train line would relieve some of the vehicle stress on Black Country routes.
The Head of City Transport commented that the Council were currently consulting on a Bus Quality Partnership for Wolverhampton which was going live in September. Within this was included an emissions standard for buses entering the Wolverhampton Ring Road. The Bus Quality Partnership being consulted on included meeting Euro 6, the highest standard, by 2020/2021. There had been some complaints from the bus companies regarding having to meet this standard. Money from Central Government was being made available nationally to retro fit certain buses to have a higher standard of emissions. The cost was approximately £15,000 to £20,000 per bus. The Government needed to complete the work on 450 buses by next year, but there were only five companies in the country with the accreditation to complete the work. Each bus took one day to complete, consequently it would be unrealistic for the Council to try and meet Euro 6 targets before 2020/2021. National Express had confirmed they could meet the date stated within the Bus Quality Partnership but did not believe they could do it any earlier.
The Head of City Transport stated there were several other initiatives the Council were undertaking which would improve air quality. These included, the new metro extension and significant signal improvements which would reduce queues at traffic lights and the possible changing of speed restrictions. One idea was to reduce the 40mph speed limit to 30mph on part of the St. David’s Section of the Ring Road, this was the road which went underneath the connection to the train station and up to the Bilston island. Work was also ongoing to improve traffic flows and increase capacity on the A454. Members commented that any new speed limits would need to be enforced. The Head of Transport stated that average speed cameras were generally effective and were being trialled in the Birmingham area. An average speed cameras provision had been included as part of the Transportation Capital Programme which had been approved by Cabinet the previous evening. It was important the Council understood the revenue risk of speed cameras as the Police were reluctant to meet any costs.
A Member commented that there was significant air pollution from the numerous waste transfer units. The Head of City Transport stated there was a legal process in place for the Environment Agency to regulate the waste transfer units. The standards were getting higher. The units were supposed to have equipment which continuously monitored the pollutants giving an ongoing data record. The Council were able to approach the Environment Agency, if it was believed pollutant limits were being exceeded. The Local Authority regulated some of the lesser polluting processes.
A Member of the Panel stated he did not believe the Council had the air monitoring equipment located in the correct places. He wanted to see the City of Wolverhampton going above and beyond what was required for air quality rather than doing the minimum. The Head of Transport was in agreement that some of the air quality monitoring equipment needed to be updated and re-located. DEFRA had offered to give a grant of £50,000 for works associated with improving air quality in the City. Members asked for pressure to be applied on DEFRA to allow some of this money to be used on updating the air monitoring equipment. The Head of City Transport commented that real world tests were more beneficial than lab tests.
The Chair stated that it was important for the Council’s website to contain up to date information on air quality, so residents could be correctly informed. It was also important for the website to explain what the Council’s duties were in relation to air quality and the steps the Council were taking to address the problem. He recommended that the website information be reviewed and updated. He also asked for the Council to be as transparent as possible in their dealings with DEFRA.
A) That the Council’s website air quality pages be reviewed and updated.
B) That DEFRA be asked if some grant money could be awarded to the Council to update and re-locate the Council’s air monitoring equipment.
Members complimented the Chair of the Panel for his work in the role, as he was stepping down as Chair, after the Local Government elections in May.
The meeting closed at 7:10pm.