Following the introduction of the Localism Act in 2011, the role of local councillors has increasingly come under scrutiny.
The Act provides a substantial and lasting shift in power away from central government and towards local people and has given local authorities more power and freedom to conduct their business and to deliver services to the public. However, along with this power and this freedom comes responsibility. Local authorities and the councillors who oversee local public services are now required to accept greater responsibility for the consequences of their actions or omissions.
Part 2 of the Act, concerned with incentivising public authorities to comply with European Law, is particularly problematic for WMDC.
Nitrogen dioxide levels along many roads in the district are already well above EU limits and Wakefield is in fact the second worst area in Yorkshire for particle air pollution - which contributes to cardiovascular disease. Dr Andrew Furber, director of public health, places the blame on the city’s proximity to the M1, M62 and A1 motorways.
Why then does WMDC allow yet more housing along these corridors, especially when the ancillary road network is already choked with traffic during peak hours, adding to the pollution problems?
Why does it persist in removing the greenfield and Green Belt sites in or near the air quality management areas; and why is it destroying the green infrastructure in urban areas, which is necessary for the health and well being of residents as well as wildlife?
Paragraph 124 of the NPPF requires planners to carry out an assessment of the cumulative effects of individual developments yet all recent applications for housing in WMDC, and all recent considerations of mitigation requirements, have only been assessed in isolation. This is likely to be considered by the Secretary of State for DEFRA as a significant omission.
The Secretary of State has already made it clear that he has the power under the Localism Act to pass any air quality infraction fines imposed by the EU directly to district councils. Where decisions have caused, or contributed to the problem, a council will be very vulnerable.
Members of the WMDC Highways and Planning Committee should take note. Permitting developments that will lead to deteriorations in air quality is against the council’s duty to protect public health and they would be accountable (collectively) for any infractions of EU law and NPPF advice.
The latest applications submitted to the council include requests for permission to build at the Sports Club, Sandal, Benton Hill, Horbury and Standbridge Lane, Crigglestone.
Unless and until the cumulative impacts of all the developments accepted under the Local Development Plan have been properly assessed, permissions for these three developments, and any further housing developments in Wakefield, should be refused.
James M Donlon
Durkar Low Lane