Agenda item

Air Quality Strategy


Considered –


The written report of the Corporate Director - Business and Environmental providing an overview of the Air Quality Strategy and responses received from the draft strategy public consultation.


Simon Moss presented the report. 


Simon Moss explained about how the development of the Air Quality Strategy linked into the County Council’s policy framework including the Local Transport Plan and the Council Plan.


He then went on to explain about the consultation process for the draft Air Quality Strategy for North Yorkshire.  The aim of the strategy was to protect and where necessary improve air quality.  In order to achieve that ambition there were four key objectives, which he went on to detail, as set out in the document.


The consultation had been undertaken in four phases each involving different respondents, including members of the public and external stakeholders such as the local planning authorities and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).  The consultation period had been extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


A number of technical responses had been provided including from members of the public who had in-depth knowledge. 


Simon Moss noted that there had to be a balance of what was possible in achieving the best air quality against what was realistic to do so.  Three quarters of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the County Council’s ambition, and generally speaking, they felt that the current situation regarding air quality in the county was clearly explained and that the roles between the County Council and district councils was made clear.


In relation to the objectives, only 42% of respondents thought that they were realistic and achievable.  A spectrum of responses had been received from people saying the strategy was over ambitious to others saying that it was not ambitious enough.  

The consultation had provided some useful suggestions for actions that had previously not been included such as tackling emissions from burning moorland heather and looking at domestic heating as a source of pollutants in detail.


The next steps would be to take the finalised document to Management Board and the Executive for final approval before publishing the document.


Members made the following key statements:


County Councillor Karl Arthur referred to Appendix A of the report and to an air quality management area that was within his division.  He asked what progress had been made and if the only way to tackle the air pollution in that area was to pedestrianise the area or provide a roundabout to keep traffic moving.  Simon Moss replied that he was not able to comment on the progress of individual areas because air quality was monitored by the district councils.  However, a number of measures had been put in place in the areas listed in Appendix 1 to reduce pollution.


County Councillor Paul Haslam said the draft strategy was a substantial document and he welcomed that.  He said though that it was not sufficient for the strategy to be supporting other council policies but should in fact be leading them.  The Air Quality Strategy clearly needed to be co-ordinated with all other de-carbonisation and climate change policies.  The four key objectives needed to be extended or linked to other policies.  In particular, he said there was a need to encourage district councils to measure in ‘real time’ pollution levels.  There was also a need for the County Council to be encouraging the reduction of car usage and at the same time improving and promoting public transport and active travel.  There was also a need to refer in the document to the circular economy and to promote buying local.  Building better homes and refitting old housing stock should be referenced including retrofitting old buildings, with the County Council leading by example.  There also needed to be more actions in relation to domestic heating and agricultural practices, looking at low intensive farming and the restoration of peat bogs.  Whilst a number were mentioned in the action plan they did not have separate leads.  He went on to state that his biggest concern was about the accurate measurement of air quality, and without that it would be very difficult for the County Council to act.  He concluded by saying that the strategy lacked ambition in terms of the targets and timescales.


County Councillor John McCartney said that air pollution was a huge issue for the county.  However in relation to planning applications considered by the County Council, when residents raised issues about pollution from HGV's, the County Council’s Planning Committee was advised by officers that this was not an issue to take into account and that the Council’s strategies on climate change and the environment more generally were not an issue for planning.  Consequently, the one area where the County Council could take real action was being stopped and residents’ concerns being ignored.  He went on to note that the Air Quality Strategy did not refer to planning.  Planning however needed to be part of the answer in tackling air pollution and not part of the problem, as was currently the case.  Simon Moss replied that he was not able to comment upon individual applications but the County Council had introduced environmental impact assessments so that was part of the decision making process and so should help some of the concerns.  He agreed to discuss with colleagues how this element could be strengthened. 


County Councillor Caroline Patmore said that she needed to speak up for people who lived in the countryside.  The Air Quality Strategy referred to getting people to use active travel including cycling and walking.  When living in the countryside though, it was often not possible to walk directly from home for any great distance because there were no footpaths by the side of the roads to be able to access the wider public footpath network.  Whilst there were many cyclists, it was very dangerous for cyclists to be riding two abreast on rural roads.  She said she did not want to stop cyclists and walkers from being on or near to the road but in order to make the situation safer for all road users, it would mean committing many financial resources.  In addition, any scheme needed to be sensitive to the surrounding area, for example, large swathes of tarmacked paths were not suitable.  In rural areas, residents often were presented with urban solutions and there was an expectation that many of those urban solutions could be applied to rural North Yorkshire. The same could also apply in terms of the electrification of the bus fleets.  A lot of the substantial progress made in the use of those technologies applied to an urban model. 


Resolved –


That the Committee notes the summary of responses, subsequent updates to the strategy and the next steps in relation to approval of the strategy.

Supporting documents: