I alluded here that I’d received a response from the Welsh Government about the air quality problem in Cogan. It came from Robert Williams, who’s Head of Radioactivity and Pollution Prevention at the WG. It’s nice to see someone so senior responding to our concerns. Here’s what he wrote:
Controlling air pollution in Wales is a key objective for the Welsh Government. We are committed to tackling the sources of pollution and ensuring people’s right to clean air. Our air is cleaner than at any time since the industrial revolution, but we continue to work towards further improvements.
Local Authorities must carry out regular reviews and assessments of air quality in their area against standards and objectives in the National Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These are statutory duties for local air quality management (LAQM) under Part IV of the Environment Act 1995.Where these standards and objectives are unlikely to be met authorities must:
- designate air quality management areas (AQMAs); and
- prepare and implement remedial air quality action plans.
Welsh Government oversees local authorities’ compliance with the Local Air Quality Management process. We are responsible for ensuring that local authorities undertake and submit assessments and reports on local air quality as required by the Local Air Quality Management regime. However, delivery of actions in the resulting Air Quality Action Plans is the responsibility of local authorities.
We have issued extensive statutory guidance setting out what is expected of local authorities in fulfilling their duties. The Local Air Quality Management Regime is currently under joint review by Defra and the devolved administrations.
The Vale of Glamorgan Council assesses and compiles yearly reports on air quality and follow our guidance to do this. Once these reports are submitted to us they are appraised by our independent contractors to ensure they meet the required standards.
The Vale of Glamorgan Council continually monitors pollutant levels throughout the Authority, in particular there are numerous monitoring sites within Penarth. An annual report is produced from the results of this monitoring. If the levels are high then a detailed assessment is carried out. Detailed Assessments are used to determine whether or not there is a likelihood of particular objectives under assessment not being achieved. The Council has used this assessment on a number of occasions for the Nitrogen Dioxide annual mean objective in an area of Penarth where the data indicates the measured pollution levels are close to the objective levels.
The objective for this Nitrogen dioxide is either an hourly average or an annual average. While Nitrogen Dioxide at a site may exceed 40µg/m3 on several occasions the average for the year is considered not monthly data.
The Vale of Glamorgan council monitors the levels of Nitrogen Dioxide and shares this data publicly. Therefore all interested parties are aware of the pollutant levels on Windsor Road. The Council has also recently commissioned a further detailed assessment for nitrogen dioxide for this area to determine whether or not the pollutant level is likely to exceed the objective over the next few years. The results of this assessment will be available shortly and will inform the Council of the need for further action.
The Welsh Government holds a strong policy of dealing with air quality in Wales in a transparent way. The Welsh Government provides the platform (the Welsh Air Quality website) to enable all air quality data from across Wales to be made publicly available and is committed to this. We accept South Wales, along with most of the UK and other European Member States faces challenges in achieving compliance with UK objectives for Nitrogen Dioxide and all relevant parties are addressing these as a matter of priority.
There are a few points of recent interest to note both with this response and with recent developments.
Firstly, I’m delighted that air pollution – and good air quality – is “a key objective for the Welsh Government”. However I would question whether the oversight of the Vale of Glamorgan’s compliance with Local Air Quality Management has been adequate. For the reasons I referred to here, I’m still not sure why an Air Quality Management Area was never declared in Cogan. Just to recap – a European Directive states that the annual mean nitrogen dioxide level can’t be more than 40 ug/m3. That limit was breached in 2011 (41 ug/m3), 2010 (45 ug/m3), 2009 (46 ug/m3), 2008 (43 ug/m3), 2007 (47 ug/m3), 2006 (49 ug/m3)… you get the picture. Let’s bear in mind that in 2007 the Vale of Glamorgan predicted the annual mean value would be 22 ug/m3 and you get an idea of how chronically bad their forecasting has been, how cheerfully negligent the councillors were, and just how ‘stringent’ the Welsh Government’s oversight has been.
So I couldn’t help feeling that the UK Government got what it deserved when the European Commission decided the UK could not extend the deadline for achieving pollution targets. As I understand it Penarth would probably be included under the “Cardiff urban area” classification. But it turns out that the Vale’s failure to declare an Air Quality Management Area meant the Welsh Government wasn’t reporting failures to the UK Government, which wasn’t reporting failures to the European Commission. Oh dear. So when the European Commission confidently states “in most of the zones air quality plans were established and reported to the Commission within two years of the first exceedance plus margin of tolerance”, they haven’t exactly been told the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The Commission is satisfied that in the case of the Cardiff urban area, the UK’s authorities’ projections on nitrogen dioxide concentrations by 2015 “seem reasonable and realistic”, and the limit set out in European law for 2010 – to protect people’s health, let’s remember – has been postponed to 2015. But there’s a proviso. Article 22 of the Directive states that this postponement is only allowable if there’s an air quality management plan. And just as a reminder, for Cogan, there isn’t one. So should we hope that Cogan slides under the radar? I don’t very much care for the idea of Penarth taxpayers shelling out their share of millions of pounds in European Commission fines for the Vale’s failure to take air pollution seriously. But I care even less for the idea that the residents of Cogan are being subject to illegal pollution loadings year after year after year because councillors in the Vale haven’t had the gumption to confess there’s a problem. Perhaps the time has come for a complaint to the European Commission?
On a brighter note, I’m delighted to see that the Vale has commissioned another detailed assessment to determine whether or not nitrogen dioxide is likely to exceed the objective over the next few years. And there’s actually a chance that pollution levels could sneak below the legal limit because it just so happens that a golden egg has fallen into the lap of the Vale Council. From April to August 2012, Sustrans is running a Pesonalised Travel Planning scheme in Penarth. If all goes to plan, this could reduce the number of car journeys made by Penarth residents by as much as 11%. That might be enough to bring emissions under the legal limit – although if I were a councillor, or indeed the Welsh Government, I wouldn’t want to leave something like European infringement proceedings to chance. Anyway I’m sure the people of Cogan will be looking forward to breathing a big sigh of relief when all this is over.
It’ll also provide welcome relief to the Vale of Glamorgan Council, who frankly have done little to deserve this stroke of good fortune. They’ll want to be thanking Ieuan Wyn Jones for starting the Cardiff Sustainable Travel City initiative and Carl Sargeant for funding the Personalised Travel Planning element. Although it’s probably thanks to lobbying by Sustrans Cymru that either programme ever got up and running. I’d expect to see a few membership applications from some prominent Vale politicians dropping through the letter box at Bute Street over the coming months – starting with Rob Curtis.