A report from Public Health England published in April lists Wakefield as the third worst area in Yorkshire for nitrogen dioxide levels from traffic fumes.
This is hardly surprising given that Wakefield is the sixth lowest of nearly fifty cities for rush hour traffic speed (an average12mph and worse than Leeds at 15.5mph).
The nitrogen dioxide levels exceed EU limits in several parts of the district and contribute to many health problems – particularly cardiovascular diseases.
The government (DEFRA) is so concerned about the air pollution levels, and the possible infraction fines which may be levied under the EU Air Quality Directive, it has recently written to local authorities reminding them that, under the Localism Act, they could be required to pay all or part of any fines imposed.
Unfortunately, instead of taking steps to reduce traffic congestion, especially in or near to designated Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) in the district, WMDC is exacerbating the problems by giving planning permission for additional housing schemes despite the extra traffic these will generate.
Planners are attempting to improve air quality by requiring developers to provide electric charging points in the housing and to pay for bus travel passes but as Environmental Health officers admit, such conditions have to date proved to be ineffective.
It is simply unacceptable for WMDC to risk the health and welfare of both existing residents and newcomers by permitting such development before the air pollution problems are ameliorated and the traffic flows on the road networks are resolved.
It seems that when the Local Plan was drawn up, no one showed any concern for the cumulative effects of new development, preferring instead to consider sites submitted by developers separately. As an Environmental Health scientific officer writes in the latest local Air Quality Progress Report (April 2014): “air quality assessment undertaken as part of the Local Development Framework planning process were individually unable to identify the impact of all the schemes taken together”.
It just beggars belief that a Local Development Plan, the purpose of which was to take an overview of developments in the Wakefield District, should have been defective in this respect. The plan is clearly not fit for purpose.
Air quality is likely to become a major political issue in the next national elections but residents can’t wait for new government initiatives. The impact of new housing schemes is irreversible and local planners and councillors should take action now to stop further development in inappropriate locations.
James M Donlon
Durkar Low Lane