What Cheshire East Council is doing to tackle traffic air pollution

Pollution from traffic is one of the many issues affecting our planet today as the fight against climate change and the contribution made by the internal combustion engine to global warming. It’s an issue which is relevant for the entire country – and Cheshire East is no different. With one of the busiest motorways in the UK flowing through the borough in the form of the M6 which has historically suffered from congestion and misery for motorists from accidents, the amount of traffic making its way up and down the county cannot be underestimated.

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The stretch between junction 16 for Crewe and junction 19 for Tabley has since been converted into a smart motorway with four lanes of traffic in each direction.

And with several major A roads connecting and flowing through the area’s towns such as Crewe, Nantwich, Sandbach, Macclesfield, Knutsford, Middlewich and Wilmslow to name but a few, commuter traffic around these areas undoubtedly contributes to air pollution. Cheshire East Council is one of the authorities with the responsibility first and foremost for tackling air pollution across the borough. The local authority has set a target for itself to become carbon neutral by 2025 – and councillor Mick Warren, Cheshire East Council’s cabinet member for communities, said the issues of air quality and climate change are taken ‘extremely seriously’.

And measures are being put in place to combat traffic-related emissions in the area, taking people out of their cars and onto public transport, cycling and walking. 

Councillor Mick Warren, Cheshire East Council cabinet member for communities

He said: “We are introducing a range of measures that will target a reduction in road-related emissions across the borough by encouraging low or zero-emission travel alternatives through walking, cycling and public transport and delivering infrastructure improvements to benefit locations where air quality problems occur. “We have an air quality strategy in place which, as demonstrated through regular monitoring reports, is tackling the issue of traffic air pollution across the borough. “Although, compared with bigger towns and cities, we are pleased to say that, with the exception of a number of hot spots, air quality in Cheshire East is officially quoted as ‘generally good’.”

In terms of monitoring pollution in the area, the council currently has one automatic monitoring site in Disley measuring levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is formed when fossil fuels are burned. Another one was sited on the A556 Chester Road in Mere, but was decommissioned in mid-2017, with the council’s website admitting though the equipment provides ‘high quality data’, they are expensive to purchase and maintain.

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See our list of 50 small things you can do to make a big change. It means passive diffusion tubes – a cheaper and more convenient alternative but which are not as accurate and only give a figure representing a whole month as opposed to daily or weekly readings – are also used to measure pollution levels.  According to the most recent data on the council’s website of nitrogen dioxide diffusion tubes across the area, higher levels are typically being recorded in the various town centres across Cheshire East and on commuter routes in the area, which is perhaps not unexpected.

And according to further data from the council, the annual mean nitrogen dioxide level has been set as a target of 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre across all but one of its air quality management areas in the borough. The latest monthly raw data from more than 130 diffusion tubes in locations across Cheshire East shows this can fluctuate above and below this standard. For 2019 between January and October, the raw data shows for many locations in the likes of Macclesfield, several parts of Congleton and Middlewich, and Sandbach show their monthly figures to be meeting the nitrogen dioxide standard set.

Again, with some exceptions, the same story is shown in locations across the likes of Crewe and Nantwich.     But what is being done to encourage the public to ditch traditional modes of roads of transport powered by the internal combustion engine and make the switch to electric vehicles?

An electric vehicle charging point.

One common complaint highlighted when this choice comes up is that there are a lack of public charging points for electric vehicles, therefore restricting their range compared to those powered by petrol or diesel. So how does electric vehicle charging fare in Cheshire East? 

Data from the Department for Transport show that as of the start of October 2019, there were 15,116 public electric vehicles available in the UK, of which nearly 2,500 were classed as rapid devices. In Cheshire East at this time, there were 59 public charging devices in total, of which 22 are classed as rapid. It puts the number of charging devices in the borough per 100,000 people at a rate of 15 – three higher than neighbouring local authority Cheshire West and Chester, where there are only 40 public charging devices, and only six of these are rapid.

It’s something that the council seems keen to build upon even more – with other priorities also highlighted such as increasing the use of cycle routes and establishing appropriate truck routes in a bid to minimise congestion. Cllr Warren said: “The council’s 2019 annual status report was submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and approved. “Our strategy encompasses the many objectives already drawn up to help meet government policy relating to air quality, which informs all council decision making.

What Cheshire East Council is doing to tackle traffic air pollutionThe stretch between junction 16 for Crewe and junction 19 for Tabley has been converted into a smart motorway with four lanes of traffic in each direction.

“We aim to secure more electric vehicle charging points, especially on new housing developments, designated routes for HGVs and improvements to the highway network to help reduce emissions from traffic.

“This will complement the increasing uptake of electric vehicles in our communities. “We want to work with freight operators to establish appropriate truck routes to minimise congestion and pollution as part of our network management responsibilities. “We will also introduce more cycle routes as part of our cycling strategy, embedded within our local transport plan, which seeks to promote sustainable modes of transport and reduce car dependency as we develop town-based transport delivery plans to introduce better local walking and cycling networks.

“All the above objectives complement the council’s statutory obligations to improve air quality in the borough, particularly within the existing 19 air quality management areas.” A low emission strategy is also currently being developed in Cheshire East in a bid to reduce them as much as possible, as well as ensure those associated with new developments are kept to a minimum, the council website states. An air quality strategy – though not a statutory requirement for councils – has also been formulated in Cheshire East as of October 2018, while an action plan running up to 2023 has also been created and sets out the measures the local authority is proposing to improve in all its air quality management areas.

As of October 2018, transport in the borough accounted for 37% of total carbon dioxide emissions in Cheshire East, highlighting the need for air quality improvement.  Outside of Cheshire East Council’s responsibilities, national organisations such as Defra and Highways England also have a role to play.

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A Highways England spokesperson said: “We remain committed to investing the GBP75m air quality fund through to the end of March 2020, as set out in the government’s Road Investment Strategy. “Since 2015 we have been doing the necessary investigation to find meaningful and effective measures to improve air quality alongside our network.

“This has included providing support for the new electric van demonstration centre in Leeds, and electric charging points. “We are also progressing the roll out of the national air quality barrier programme and continue to support local authorities with the delivery of their clean air zones.” A Defra spokesperson added: “We are taking bold and ambitious action to ensure clean air for the nation, with our Environment Bill we will include a duty to introduce legally-binding air quality targets.

“This builds on our GBP3.5bn plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions, with a Clean Air Strategy backed by the World Health Organisation as an example for the rest of the world to follow.” The fight against traffic pollution will continue for years to come, but it seems measures are well under way and plans have been developed in Cheshire East to reduce this as much as they can be in the future. You can use our online calculator below to find out what your carbon footprint is

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