Monday, 8 December 2014

Air Quality in Frodsham... and the BBC

Sunday afternoon was meant to be a quiet affair - attending to my wife's ever increasing list of jobs for me.  Grouting the bathroom was high on the list ... and then out of the blue the BBC phoned.   Radios 5 & 4 wanted to do a story linking the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report on concerns regarding air quality around schools, care homes and hospitals with the air quality monitoring we have in place in Frodsham and in particular the environmental monitoring we have put in place at Manor House Primary School courtesy of Lynn and my members grants and FTC.

Not for the first time we have Frodsham leading the way and of national interest.

It's worth taking a step back.  Lynn and I pressed for enhanced environmental monitoring in Frodsham on the back of Peel's proposals to build their two incinerators at Ince and the commissioning of the incinerator at Ineos's plant which is now burning waste from Greater Manchester.

We were able to persuade Peel to contribute money allowing us and a group of residents to commission an independent expert Prof Laxon to give us advice on the then current air quality in and around Frodsham ... and to give us a benchmark against which to judge future developments.

Lynn and I were able to join this project up with CWaC's ongoing monitoring of traffic pollution.  It is a good few years now since I was able to have monitoring equipment installed near the Marsh Lane park homes.  To this CWaC added a number of additional monitoring stations primarily along the A56 in Frodsham.  We were also able to bring a comprehensive environmental monitoring station to Manor House School.  The scientists advised that Manor House was an ideal location to monitor background levels of air-borne pollutants as it was not directly on a main road.

That environmental monitoring station has been in place now for a few months.  In the meantime work elsewhere in Frodsham has backed up Prof. Laxon's initial report.  Air quality from industry doesn't appear to be an issue.  The issue, where we have one in Frodsham is traffic.

The location of the air monitoring diffusion tubes on the A56
The modelled NOx pollution levels - the worst being at the Fluin Lane / A56 junction

The data collected shows we have NOx (various nitrogen oxides) above the 40 microgram average action level in and around the Fluin Lane / A56 junction.

So what are we to do about this?  Well CWaC Environmental team and the highway engineers are looking into what can be done.  There are few options though given our constrained geography and narrow transport corridor.   The House of Commons Committee is suggesting low emission zones be run out over the country, rather than just in London.  They are also suggesting air filtration equipment for affected schools etc.  However I'm not sure these measures are the answer.  I don't think anyone would welcome a reduction in traffic on the A56 if it meant that each of our own freedom to drive would be curtailed.  Electric cars seem only a few years away... but can we wait that long?

One thing that struck me very keenly this morning whilst watching the school run develop was how Langdale Way had gone from a quiet inoffensive residential road into a road temporarily choked with cars with  a strong smell of car fumes.  Ironically the fumes will no doubt dissipate by 9am but they will be at their worst when our youngsters are walking to and from the school gate!

Now Manor House is a great school; all my children went there.  There is nothing particular about the Manor or its parents (other than they are great).  I'm sure all of our schools in Frodsham will see the same effects with the school run.  I do want to see, if I can, monitoring equipment at Weaver Vale School - bearing in mind how close it is to the M56.  However as the second of the maps shows traffic pollution tends to be perceived within a few metres of a heavily trafficked road and not further afield.

We all hear the message about our children walking to school - I can just imagine the domestic revolt of my daughter had to walk to Helsby High School - but so few of us can work walking to school into the daily routine. Would things be any different if we had a sign outside our schools showing us the live air pollution data and how it was being worsened by our own cars?  I certainly think it would make many of us stop and think... and alter our behaviours.   This strikes me as one of those issues where we ourselves and our busy car bound lifestyles are the problem.  Nearly 80% of us in Frodsham who go to work do so by car according to 2011 census.

... so having had the pleasure of being on (albeit via Reporter Nick Garnet and an inmarsat link) with Radio 5s Nicky and Rachel and Radio 4s A team of John Humphries and Jim Naughtie I don't have all the answers, although I'm working on them!  If you have any thoughts ... do be in touch.

... by the way I've been getting tweets, emails and comments from listeners who both heard me and know me... an interesting insight into those who prefer Radio 5 over Radio 4!  Radio Merseyside now have the story ... as do North West tonight.  Is this where I fall-back on 'my face for radio?'