A Norfolk market town’s battle against air pollution

Road traffic is one of the major causes of excessive nitrogen dioxide. Picture: Stephen Cripps

Road traffic is one of the major causes of excessive nitrogen dioxide. Picture: Stephen Cripps - Credit: Archant

It is a problem you would expect in the crowded streets of London but a Norfolk market town has become embroiled in a battle against dangerously high pollution levels. If it is not solved residents, particularly children and the elderly, could face serious health risks. STEVE SHAW reports...

Road traffic is one of the major causes of excessive nitrogen dioxide. Picture: Stephen Cripps

Road traffic is one of the major causes of excessive nitrogen dioxide. Picture: Stephen Cripps - Credit: Archant

The A1065 runs through the centre of Swaffham and is the main route for local traffic, as well as traffic trying to reach the A47.

Almost every year since 2008, Breckland Council has recorded nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels which have often exceeded the council's annual objective, based on EU guidelines, and last year an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) on the Station Road section of the A1065, indicating that air quality objectives are not achievable.

Under guidelines laid out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), once an AQMA zone has been declared, an action plan must be compiled and key to this is a public consultation, which got underway on January 12.

The consultation is a six week process, giving residents and businesses the opportunity to provide feedback on a number of proposed solutions. When it ends on February 23, the feedback will be used to refine a draft of the action plan which is due to be submitted to DEFRA in November.

Alison Webb. Picture: Archant

Alison Webb. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

'Air quality is an issue for many towns and cities nationally and there is no quick fix,' said councillor Alison Webb, of Breckland Council.

'It's likely that in Swaffham improvements will be achieved through implementing a number of measures over a long period of time.

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'Some may take many years to put in place, while others can be implemented more quickly. Whether it's improving traffic flow, sharing car journeys, or making greater use of walking, cycling and public transport, both organisations and individuals can help to make a difference.'

Long term exposure to high levels of NO2 has been found to cause serious respiratory problems, particularly for children and the elderly. A 2015 report published by DEFRA, estimated that it is responsible for cutting short around 23,500 lives each year in the UK.

Swaffham town centre. Picture: Ian Burt

Swaffham town centre. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Why Swaffham suffers from excessive NO2 levels while other Norfolk towns do not is difficult to determine but many residents feel the problem lies with the volume of HGVs that travel through the town to reach the A47.

A proposal that has been included in the consultation suggests the possible implementation of a bypass that connects the Brandon Road section of the A1065, south of the town, to the A47, north of the town.

Resident Stephen Cripps, said: 'Every local town; Dereham, Fakenham, Downham, Attleborough, Thetford, has a bypass or relief road, a proposed bypass for Brandon has gone out to consultation.

'It is felt that this is what Swaffham needs; to alleviate traffic problems and to change the development structure of the town. The recent HM Government proposal to relieve town centre congestion and air pollution with by-pass development adds further weight to this option.'

However, Mr Cripps was doubtful that Breckland Council would be willing to seriously consider such a large and costly measure.

'What Breckland wants and what the people of Swaffham want are not necessarily the same,' he said. 'Breckland wants to reduce the NO2 levels as quickly, cheaply and as easily as possible.'

Breckland Council has been working with Norfolk County Council to find ways to improve traffic flow and a report by the county council found it could potentially reduce all oxides of nitrogen by up to 25pc.

However, this would incur a significant cost and Breckland's joint bid with the county council for further financing from DEFRA was unsuccessful.

Stan Sole, a resident and member of a local traffic consultation group, said the prospect of more housing is also threatening to make the pollution problem worse.

Abel Homes recently submitted a planning application for 160 houses on Brandon Road and Mr Sole said that if it is given the go-ahead then it will result in even more traffic, most of which would have to go into or through the town to get to Norwich, King's Lynn or the supermarkets.

Mr Sole added: 'If the Abel Homes planning application were to be approved, the load from the increase in traffic on the A1065 through Swaffham would become intolerable, with increased congestion, queues and pollution all increasing.'

Breckland District Council said 150 people attended the launch event for the consultation and they are encouraging more people give their views.

The survey can be completed online by visiting the consultation website.

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