Controversial road closure plans aimed at cutting air pollution will simply move the problem elsewhere, councillors have argued.
Basford Bank and Victoria Road in Fenton may be partially closed to rush hour traffic as part of proposals to reduce illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide, as councils look to comply with a government directive.
But scrutiny committee members at Stoke-on-Trent City Council have raised concerns that the draconian measures will only displace, rather than solve, the air quality issue, as motorists would just clog up other roads instead.
They suggested areas such as Wolstanton, Hartshill and Joiners Square – where NO2 levels are currently within legal limits – could be affected in this way.
The proposed bus gates, which are part of a wider £13.5 million plan, would restrict traffic in one direction to buses, taxis and bicycles for six hours a day at each location.
Officers told the councillors that while the bus gates would clearly push rush hour traffic elsewhere, air pollution on alternative routes would not become excessively high as a result.
EU air quality rules limit NO2 levels to 40 micrograms per cubic metre, with both Basford Bank and Victoria Road currently exceeding that limit.
Conservative councillor Lesley Adams argued that the bus gate scheme would not be a proper solution to this problem.
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She said: “While I agree that the good health of our residents is paramount, closing Basford Bank is just ridiculous, because of the impact of residents. And I don’t see what it achieves because all it does is move the problem.
“Looking at the junction with North Street, where the traffic would be diverted to. If you push the traffic from the bottom of Basford Bank onto North Street, then surely then its NO2 levels will go above 40.”
Fellow Tory councillor Ross Irving added: “[The Basford Bank proposal] is going to have a dramatic effect on areas such as Porthill, Wolstanton and Hartshill, and no doubt in areas such as Fenton and Joiners Square in relation to the Victoria Road proposal.
“Have we got any modelling to show what would happen during these peak periods and what effect it is likely to have on the immediate neighbourhoods.”
NO2, the main source of which is vehicle exhaust, can cause or exacerbate various respiratory conditions, such as asthma.
Local air quality plan project manager Pete Price explained that the aim of the exercise, as directed by government, was to reduce NO2 levels to legal levels as quickly as possible, but not necessarily to improve overall air quality in North Staffordshire.
This means taking action on ‘red’ roads, where levels are too high, even if it means NO2 emissions increase on ‘orange’ roads, which are currently within legal limits.
Mr Price said: “We have looked very closely at what a peak period road closure does on transferring traffic. In the case of Basford Bank clearly it has an impact on roads like Hartshill Road if you’re coming from the south, and it clearly has an impact on the roads going through May Bank if you’re coming into the area from the north.
“But the transport and air quality modelling that specialist consultants have done for us has shown that while there is a change in air quality and NO2 concentrations those orange roads don’t turn red. They stay below that 40 microgram limit.
“We are very governed by the legislation which requires us to make sure that no road exceeds 40. In effect what the legislation says is that if the level is 35 to 39 it is acceptable in terms of the statutory limit. That doesn’t mean there’s no pollution of course. But in terms of the assumed safe level it complies with that requirement.”
Labour councillor Jo Woolner raised concerns over the impact of the bus gates on businesses and workers.
She said: “In relation to the bus gate on Victoria Road, has any modelling been taken into consideration with the employees that access the businesses on Victoria Road. For instance, is there going to be a park-and-ride for employees, as there is an area next to JTF which could be used for this.”
Mr Price said there were no current plans for park-and-ride, and that all the modelling was based on motorists finding alternative routes.
Committee members suggested a number of alternatives to the bus gates, including a car scrappage scheme and banning HGVs from the routes in question.
The councillors voted in favour of calling on the authority to come up with an alternative scheme. But as the councils have to submit an outline business case for their proposals by the end of the year, it is unlikely there will be enough time.