Fighting for air

Last month, the UN published a report saying that we have just 12 years left to act on climate change, or the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people will become much worse. Frankly, I find this terrifying – we have to do something, urgently, but the scale of the challenge is so overwhelming. How can you and I, as individuals, possibly make a difference? 

Let’s start in our town. In Tonbridge, our high street has been declared an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) since 2005, because air pollution, mainly caused by cars and buses, exceeds acceptable levels. Nitrogen dioxide, produced by diesel vehicles, forms toxic particles which can damage the lungs and enter the bloodstream. It is also harmful when breathed as a gas.

Idling traffic has recently increased dramatically since buses can no longer pull in to stop. The decision to develop green spaces and remove trees from the town centre, such as at River Lawn, will certainly not help. 

Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council is currently consulting on a Local Plan – this document, once finalised, will set out policies and identify how land is used, determining what will be built where. It will guide Council decision making until 2031. The council’s own Air Quality Impact Assessment, published in June, concludes that pollution levels on the high street are predicted to continue to exceed acceptable levels throughout this period. 

The draft Local Plan identifies areas for development, which will lead to more traffic, creating even more air pollution.  Assessment of many of the proposed sites mentions the fact that they will have a negative impact on the High Street AQMA. The cumulative effect of all the new developments is a time bomb for respiratory problems.

And the plan fails woefully to outline any meaningful action to reduce air pollution – in fact, it lazily (and somewhat optimistically) passes the buck by relying on general technological advances to reduce car emissions! Electric and autonomous vehicles may help in the long-term but nothing is being done to tackle the problems of today and over the medium-term. In fact some decisions are making the situation worse - the 16+ Freedom Pass for bus travel is now £400 a year and the standard one for schoolchildren is £290, an increase from £50 when it was first introduced. KCC is forcing parents back into cars.

Public consultation on the Local Plan closes at 4pm on November 19ththen it goes before a Government-appointed planning inspector. This is your last chance to express your view – by commenting we can all play a role in helping determine how our community develops. For anyone interested in learning more about registering comments and concerns on the draft Local Plan, a public meeting is being held at Sussex Road School on Thursday 15th November at 7pm.

April Clark, local campaigner, Tonbridge & Malling Green Party

This column first appeared in the Times of Tonbridge 14th November 2018


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