I was intrigued to read this story about our friends in Cardiff the other day. It certainly gave me cause for thought. What’s the latest on the Vale of Glamorgan’s one and only Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), down in Cogan?
It turns out there isn’t an AQMA in Cogan. My mistake.
But there’s a bit more to this story.
According to the snappily titled “Air Quality (Wales) Regulations 2000“, there are strict limits for a whole host of air pollutants. These limits come from the European Union, because other than NASA they’re pretty much the only ones who actually care about the air we breathe. The pollutant that’ll be of most interest to readers of this blog is probably nitrogen dioxide. That’s because it mainly comes about from car exhausts – and the Regulations state that the annual mean can’t be more than 40 ug/m3, and that an hourly mean of 200 ug/m3 can’t be exceeded more than 18 times per year.
Back in 2009, the Vale Cabinet examined an Air Quality Progress Report (you can find all the Vale’s air quality information here). Pretty boring stuff, 155 pages of largely technical data, blah blah blah… and the council approved the officer’s recommendations that no action be taken. I hope we’re all reassured.
However, history should give us cause for caution. In April 2005, the Vale’s officials cheerfully forecast “no exceedances predicted for either objective (annual or 1 hour mean…) by the relevant year 2005”. And they said more or less the same (“unlikely to be exceeded”) in 2007, despite there having been 144 exceedances for the hourly mean in 2006 (Table 3.3). And Table 3.4 shows that several of the monitoring stations along Windsor Road are within a fraction of reaching the annual mean limit of 40 ug/m3, with one station (at 160 Windsor Road) recording 46 ug/m3. Strangely enough, section 8.2.1 of the report concludes that there were no exceedances of the 40 ug/m3 limit – a conclusion which appears to be in direct contravention of the facts. The Council’s predicted nitrogen dioxide level at this station in 2007 was 22 ug/m3. Astoundingly, the report went on to conclude: “a Detailed Assessment is not needed”, and “It is unlikely that the 2005 or 2010 annual mean or 1 hour mean objective will be exceeded and thus there is no need to proceed further”. This, despite the Welsh Government’s clear recommendation in 2006 that “the local authority should continue monitoring carefully at this location and should exceedance be identified then this data should be used as the initial stages of a Detailed Assessment and the Council should not wait for another year of reporting before proceeding’.
Well, we finally got our Detailed Assessment in December 2008. I have no idea why it was commissioned against the advice of the Council’s 2007 report (could it be they actually heeded the Welsh Government?!), but we should be grateful that something was done. What we should not be grateful for is the spectacular failure to foresee the continued air pollution problems on Windsor Road. Section 3.6.2 of this report tells us that “the exceedences of the objective for nitrogen dioxide are unlikely to occur in 2010 for residential properties in the area”. Well, last time I checked, it would be pretty hard to argue that 160 Windsor Road and its environs are not residential properties. And the conclusions (section 4) are beyond belief. Apparently, results from instruments “confirmed that the annual mean objective of 40 ug/m3 has been met in 2007”. That directly contravenes the evidence presented in the 2007 progress report, and, bizarrely, in Appendix 1 of the Detailed Assessment itself. And this report is particularly crucial, because this is the one the Vale Council has relied upon to not declare an Air Quality Management Area.
So I took the liberty of interrogating the data just a little bit. The joy of this is that anyone can do so at this website, so you can all check my figures if you like. Now I’m mostly interested in present-day effects, so I wanted to know what’s been happening in 2011. And it turns out that the 40 ug/m3 limit was breached in the Windsor Road monitoring station four times (out of 11) and at the 154 Windsor Road station six times. We’re not just talking ‘just over the limit’ either. On two occasions the latter station’s reading was exceeded by 35%, and the former by 30%. By my calculations the 40 ug limit was exceeded in 2011 (actual figure 41 ug/m3) at 154 Windsor Road.
That raised my concern level even further. So I looked at all the results between 2007 and 2011. And sure enough, back in 2010, we had 45 ug/m3 at both 154 Windsor Road, and ‘Windsor Road’ station. 2009 saw another failure at 154 Windsor Road – 46 ug/m3, and 43 ug/m3 in 2008.
What on earth is going on here? What have the people of Windsor Road done to deserve such negligence? The Vale’s forecasting and reporting has been chronically optimistic year after year after year after year after year after year after year, and the pollution load – particularly at the 154 Windsor Road station – has consistently breached European limits set down in the Ambient Air Quality Directive. And the Vale Council has done absolutely nothing to remedy the situation. You can see for yourselves here that the Vale Council has done a great job at keeping its head down – note that the council is apparently ‘not relevant to exceedences’.
There’s more than a faint stench of negligence here. Someone, somewhere, in the Vale of Glamorgan knows that the residents of Cogan are being subject to air pollution that can cause inflammation of the airways and affect lung function. But as ever, I’ll save my most indignant criticism for our democratically elected and accountable representatives who are supposed to be keeping track of air pollution in Penarth.
Firstly, this is a matter of corporate responsibility so all Penarth councillors are complicit in this failure to tackle the chronic poisoning of Cogan. But what on earth do Councillors John Fraser and Dorothy Turner think the residents of Cornerswell ward are paying them £13,175 a year for? Surely the first priority for any councillor is to look after your electorate? Cllr Fraser sits on the Economy and Environment Scrutiny Committee. Hands up who thinks he’s excelled in scrutinising environmental pollution in his own ward? And how about Cllr Turner, who’s the Children’s Champion, Older Person’s Champion, Older People’s Champion and Vale representative on Disability Wales? You’d have thought she might have a bit more concern for people whose lungs are just developing or might be especially vulnerable to pollution. Most reprehensible of the lot is Councillor Hunter Jarvie who is the Cabinet Member with responsibility for Public Protection and who is also the Vale representative to the National Society for Clean Air. Unbelievable. Unfortunately the good citizens of Penarth aren’t in a position to pass judgement on Cllr Jarvie, but for those of us with friends and relatives in Cowbridge, I’m sure they’d be interested to learn just how diligent their representative is.
As for what happens next, if I’m not very much mistaken, the ONLY way that the Welsh Government will avoid infraction proceedings by the European Commission for failures to meet the nitrogen dioxide standard by 2010 is if there is an air quality action plan in place that will attain the level by 1 January 2015. But in the Defra/Welsh Government Air Quality Plan the Vale is invisible.
The Vale’s approach appears to be ‘cross your fingers and hope no-one notices’. Well guess what, councillors. Someone just did.