The government has just published the draft Air Quality Plan for consultation www.gov.uk/government/consultations/improving-air-quality-reducing-nitrogen-dioxide-in-our-towns-and-cities that it was forced to come up with by the Supreme Court after action by Client Earth www.clientearth.org/uk-government-releases-weak-air-quality-plans. The view seems to be that this plan (or plan to produce a plan) is inadequate in that there is no mention of a scrappage scheme for the most polluting vehicles and charging schemes for road use in polluted areas are to be avoided where possible (which will probably mean that no heed is taken). The issue has also been passed to local councils which is a convenient cop-out for central government. On top of this a class action lawsuit is being launched against the government on behalf of asthma sufferers for allowing air pollution to exceed legal limits for so long www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/04/government-faces-class-action-on-air-pollution-in-landmark-case. It is a sad state of affairs when legal action is necessary to get a government to do its job.
Similarly the government surely needs to step in locally here in Wealden where air pollution in the Ashdown Forest has brought a sudden halt to all development that generates any additional vehicle emissions. The Wealden DC planning department dropped a bit of a ‘bombshell’ a couple of months ago with the latest worse than expected findings on nitrogen deposition from vehicles in the Ashdown Forest.
Further development on the Ashdown Forest Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) that increases vehicular trip generation and thus nitrogen deposition will need to be mitigated to meet the requirements of the European Habitats Directive. There is a need to compensate for the damage which is already occurring through compensatory measures which may take years to be put in place to provide equivalent comparable habitat to that being lost. The latest evidence has changed the council’s position to one which means that in practical terms development across the whole district may not now proceed unless any proposal generates no more vehicle emissions than currently exist.
It’s all a bit of a mess which is no consolation to people whose development proposals are now stopped. How does this need to protect and enhance the environment square with the requirement for economic and housing growth? How can development across the whole Wealden district be stopped when development much nearer the Ashdown Forest in neighbouring districts (which is much more likely to affect the Ashdown Forest) still be allowed to proceed?
The government, which has its own agenda for economic and housing growth, needs to step up and assume more responsibility, ‘bang a few heads together’ in the various affected districts, set priorities for economic, housing and environmental issues and set a sensible timetable for mitigating the effects of nitrogen deposition from vehicles in the Ashdown Forest that does not mean the current stop on all projects. The government, which is currently preoccupied with electioneering and Brexit, needs to do its job.