New action plan agreed to tackle village pollution

06 Feb 2024

An image of a car exhaust. West Suffolk Council's Cabinet has approved a new Air Quality Action Plan for an area in Great Barton where nitrogen dioxide levels have previously exceeded nationally set thresholds.

A package of measures to try to prevent a village’s air pollution problem from getting any worse, has been agreed by West Suffolk Council’s Cabinet this evening. 

It was back in 2017 that Nitrogen Dioxide levels from vehicles travelling along a built-up stretch of the A143 at Great Barton, were found to be exceeding national targets.

The area was designated as an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) by the then St Edmundsbury Borough Council, and an Air Quality Action Plan was put in place the following year. 

The problem was found to be caused by traffic having to stop and start at a school crossing in a built-up area which was trapping the air pollution rather than it naturally dispersing.

West Suffolk Council took over the responsibility for monitoring and tackling air pollution levels when it was formed in 2019. Working with Suffolk County Council who are the highways authority, it moved the school crossing helping bring Nitrogen Dioxide levels down to 34.5 micrograms per metre cubed (μg m-3), under the target of 40 μg m-3. 

Now West Suffolk has revised its Air Quality Action Plan for the area, to try to prevent any increases in traffic over the next five years leading to pollution levels exceeding the targets once more. 

It has consulted with residents living in the AQMA and other stakeholders including Great Barton Parish Council. The feedback from residents suggests that a by-pass is the preferred option. 

But Suffolk County Council highways in its consultation response said any new road would need Government funding support and that it is “very unlikely” that this funding would be secured for Great Barton ahead of other locations in Suffolk, the East and the rest of the UK.

This evening, West Suffolk Council Cabinet agreed a new action plan containing four measures.

The first will see it commission a feasibility assessment to look amongst other things, at whether it is possible to re-route heavy and light goods vehicles. The outcome of that work could then be used to try to secure funding for Suffolk County Council highways to make improvements to existing roads.

The feasibility work would also be asked to look at traffic modelling to consider ways to improve the traffic flow through the village and whether reducing the speed limit could have any impact on vehicle emissions.
Cabinet also agreed that West Suffolk should work in collaboration with Suffolk County Council to implement traffic management initiatives in the local area, each of which would be subject to public consultation and funding.

West Suffolk will also engage with businesses in the area around ways that their lorry drivers or their sub-contractors can lower emissions and where appropriate direct them to sources of funding support to help toward upgrading vehicles.

And planning applications for commercial development in West Suffolk which could add to traffic through the AQMA will be required to submit details of strategies to ensure they keep their vehicle emissions low.

The action plan has been shaped in line with West Suffolk Council’s new strategic priority for thriving communities.

Cllr Gerald Kelly, Cabinet Member for Governance and Regulatory at West Suffolk Council, said: “We recognise that West Suffolk Council cannot tackle this challenging issue on its own. We have engaged with residents and other stakeholders to discuss a range of possible solutions. Sadly, the feedback from Suffolk County Council highways suggests there are no easy answers. 

“In delivering this action plan, we will need the ongoing support of Suffolk County Council who as the highways authority will have responsibility for delivering any of the changes to the roads. I’ve been speaking to the Councillors who represent Great Barton on West Suffolk and Suffolk County Councils throughout the shaping of this new action plan to help find the best solutions. 

“This is early days in the new plan, but air pollution has a serious impact on health and we are determined to tackle this issue on behalf of the residents of Great Barton and to help their community thrive.”

Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger who represents Great Barton on both Suffolk County and West Suffolk Council, said: “I welcome this decision and the new action plan. As the Suffolk County Councillor for Great Barton, I am already speaking to highways officers about whether it is possible to reroute HGVs away from this part of the village. While we recognise the calls for a by-pass, we have been told it is very unlikely to receive the Government funding it would need. So, it is absolutely right that we work together now on a range of other measures to tackle this and to try to prevent pollution levels from rising back up.”

West Suffolk Cllr Sarah Broughton who also represents Great Barton, said: “I know residents are concerned. We have had success in reducing Nitrogen Dioxide levels following the moving of the school crossing. But the A143 is used daily by traffic from outside the district and the county and the risk is that pollution levels may rise once more. I very much welcome this collaborative approach between residents, the parish council, stakeholders and the district and county councils to find solutions to this air pollution issue.”

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