One of the Green Party members installing air monitoring devices Credit: Steve Miller

One of the Green Party members installing air monitoring devices
Credit: Steve Miller

 

To a lot of people, Northampton will mean little more than a stopping off point on the way to London. Over the past 30 years, local and national politicians of various hues, have used the close proximity of the M1 to justify expansion based on the assumption that 4 wheels good, 2 legs bad.

As a result, Northampton now finds itself in a position similar to many towns up and down the country. The town centre is suffering at the hands of out of town retail parks; provision of public transport has been steadily declining and the infrastructure is inadequate for the amount of traffic using it. The endgame is that the air pollution in the town is frequently above the legally permitted levels and it’s not going to get any better.

In 2010, the Conservative Party swept to power in Northampton Borough, promising that they were going to revitalise the town centre. One of their earliest moves was to allow free parking in the town centre car parks, and they continue to proclaim the success of this. At the most recent Council meeting, the Cabinet member for Regeneration reported that the numbers in June 2016 were 15% up on those in June 2015, using this as evidence of success.

In addition to this, they have de-pedestrianised an area of the town centre, opening it up to cars for the first time in over 20 years, and oversaw the demolition of an admittedly aging bus station with a replacement that doesn’t have enough room for all of the buses serving the town centre.

It is little surprise that there are 6 Air Quality Management Areas in the town centre, and that the Borough Council has to have a plan for tackling the air pollution in those areas.

Years in the making, the Council now has a Draft Low Emissions Strategy, and it is carrying out a Public Consultation regarding this :

http://www.northampton.gov.uk/info/200024/consultations/2256/healthier-air-for-northampton—public-consultation

This 62 page document outlines how they intend to manage the AQMAs. At the front of the document, it admits “Current projections indicate that concentrations of NO2 may not fall below the limit value in some parts of the Borough until after 2020,” and it doesn’t get much better as the document continues.

Multiple suggestions for dealing with emissions are offered up. None of them are suitable for Northampton. There isn’t funding for Low Emission Zones nor the demand for Park & Ride and although assisting bus companies to retrofit low emissions technologies and including Electric Vehicle Charging Points in all new developments are both good, the overall strategy is very piecemeal and there’s no big idea.

Northampton Borough Council makes little information available regarding the levels of pollution in those AQMAs. An FOI request that we made earlier in the year saw the Council release data to us that was 18 months out of date. Following the example set of other Green Parties in England, the Northampton Green Party started measuring the air quality across the town ourselves 6 months ago.

We did this with three initial aims;

1 – To get more up to date and accurate figures
2 – To make these figures available to communities in Northampton
3 – To highlight the public consultation

The campaign has been well received. It’s been featured in local newspapers and on the BBC, and a Crowdfunding campaign was met with support from both Party members and Residents Associations.

This week, our latest measurements show that the levels of Air Pollution around the new Bus Station are as high as anywhere else in the town, 25% above the legal limits. This is a direct result from the inadequacy of that bus station and will be affecting the health of thousands of people every day. We are challenging the Council to fast-track this area as an AQMA and give it the attention it merits.

But, back to that public consultation. It hasn’t been wide ranging. There’s a document online, and an online survey to complete. If past consultations are anything to go by, we’d expect a couple of hundred responses at most, and the council will just adopt the draft strategy without modification.

So how can you help?. I’m highlighting the public consultation, and I’d like you to help. You can complete the survey as either a resident of Northampton, or as a visitor of Northampton. Please spare 10 minutes – take a look at the draft strategy, and then complete the survey. Mention the lack of a low emission zone, ask about a park & ride, or improved public transportation. Let them know that you’d like more cycle lanes and for the council to stop favouring the car above all other forms of transport.

Every response will make a difference and we have until 21st October to remind Northampton Borough Council that this is a public health emergency that they should be taking seriously.