Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Air Quality Forum - Mersey Estuary - a new relationship with Industry?

Professor Lathom's independent report devising an Air Quality monitoring regime for Frodsham, Helsby, Elton and Ince if the Ince incinerators are built has been released.  I have asked for it to be published on the Frodsham Town Council website.  When it goes up I will publish the link to it.  It is worth reading!

Professor Lathom was instructed by the Independent Air Quality Forum to review the present sources of air pollution in and around the Mersey Estuary and to devise a monitoring regime to detect any polluting impacts that the planned incinerators may have.  This is exactly what he has done.

The Air Quality Forum is made up of local residents, councillors and expert officers from CWaC and the Environment Agency.  Peel are also in attendance as they are footing the bill.   None of us on the forum are stooges or apologists for Peel - in fact so far as Peel is concerned I suspect most of us are viewed as being in the 'awkward squad.'  I wonder whether if it wasn't for the brow beating that Cllr Lynn Riley and I gave Peel and their partners Covanta we wouldn't have won the concession of this forum with Peel footing the bill.

In essence if Peel build their incinerators, then, well in advance of them being commissioned the air quality monitoring stations would be established and would collect data on an ongoing basis.  This background information could then be used to judge whether there had been any changes to air quality as a consequence of their development 'going live.'

When discussing the sites of the proposed monitoring stations a consensus was reached that we should look to use local schools as ideal monitoring sites.

I am constantly telling both industry and our regulators that both need to do much more to build confidence in the local community.  We are all cynical around the estuary having had unpopular developments such as these incinerators and the wind farm forced on us and this independent Air Quality Forum is one of our first tentative steps in getting industry and the regulators to approach the community in a different way.

Everyone from Government, the regulators such as the Environment Agency and industry needs to do more to provide accurate facts and information to local communities so they can make up their own minds about what is next door.  The model of an independent forum instructing independent experts directly and receiving advice from these experts independently of both industry and the regulators is, in my view a sensible step.

To be fair to Peel, when the community representatives asked for additional air monitoring - beyond that initially recommended by Professor Lathom as being necessary - they agreed and will, if their development goes ahead be footing all the costs.

From everyone's perspective this makes sense.

Peel are confident that their incinerators will not be polluting - but they also accept that the community may not believe them.  So paying for air quality monitoring that goes beyond that likely to be required by their environmental permit is a price worth paying for them and may show that what they say can be believed.

For the community, having access to independent monitoring and independent expert advice is a vital step in building confidence that either everything will be safe, or that if something is awry that it will be detected.  There will also be a stronger chance that appropriate action would be taken if there is additional monitoring.  It also means that the community can watch how the Environment Agency responds too in such an eventuality.

Not all industry around the estuary has 'got it' yet.  Ineos are set to burn Greater Manchester's waste shortly in their incinerator - but as yet they have not agreed to join in funding enhanced air quality monitoring.

Most of us living in and around the estuary have lived with 'heavy industry' for years.  We want good relations with them, we want to be respected by industry and for industry to be a good neighbour to us.  Being a good neighbour means acting safely, respecting and looking after our health and wellbeing and treasuring our environment.  Industry needs to prove that what it is doing or planning to do is safe and accept that we won't necessarily take their word for it.  Paying for independent advice, to advise the community independently strikes me as a sensible way forward.