By Mel Dawkins / Environment / / 0 Comments

Turn off your engine

After reading an article last week about high levels of pollution in St Stephen’s, I felt compelled to investigate the matter further for the ward in which I’m standing. It’s an extremely worrying issue and something has to be done about it and now. So, I went to meet up with Stephen Peckham, the University of Kent’s Professor of health policy, to find out more.

According to Professor Peckham, the level of pollution in St Stephen’s has now reached a critical point, and more needs to be done to make residents aware and informed. The Conservative-led council are more concerned about throwing good money into vanity schemes like the Whitefriars centre, and West Station car park, than improving the quality of air that its residents breathe.

Main concerns are:

  • currently, the council ignores breaches of low-level ozone levels.
  • the council rely on very poor monitoring of nitrogen dioxide, ie. test tube testing.
  • the dangerous balance of solid and liquid particles, known as Particulate 2.5, is not being measured anywhere in the city.

The Council are keeping city residents in ignorance of the appalling quality of air in Canterbury. Their website describes the air quality is ‘fine,’ but as Professor Peckham indicates, this is blatantly not true. The website data relies on an average of air quality results taken from across the whole of Kent, and not a detailed report of specific areas.  The city of Canterbury actually breached low ozone limits 36 times last year, well above the safe threshold of 10 a year. Yet we have not been informed of this. If this wasn’t bad enough, recent testing of nitrogen dioxide levels have proven to be well over their limits in areas such as Wincheap, St Peter’s Place, Sturry Road, and St Stephen’s.

Our children are being exposed to higher levels of nitrogen dioxide during busy school periods. Professor Peckham’s own research highlights the increased levels of nitrogen dioxide at those times. Residents are daily breathing in astonishingly high levels of pollution and ten times the accepted level of particulate 2.5, known to damage the lungs, impair cognitive function and worsen other conditions such as asthma.

There’s one thing we can do in St Stephen’s to make the situation a little better. Switch off our engines at the level crossings. Did you know it is actually illegal to leave the engine on whilst stationary, with exceptions when at traffic lights, or if the vehicle has defects. So why is more not being doing done to ask drivers to turn their engines off at the railway crossing?  All studies highlight these as air pollution hotspots and one of these is the route for a lot of children walking to and from the St Stephen’s primary school. The existing small signs at the road side are easily overlooked.

So, just turning your engine off when stationary could help considerably with the peaks in air pollution during busy periods. The recommendation is to turn off your ignition if you’ve waiting more than 10 seconds. Contrary to popular belief, restarting your car does not burn more fuel, than if you leave it idling. In fact, idling for just 10 seconds takes more gas than restarting the engine. Vehicle idling is also an offense against Road Traffic Regulations. The law states that is an offence to idle your engine unnecessarily when stationary, and if you fail to turn your engine off after being spoken to, you may be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £20. At the moment, nobody is enforcing this.

With the council in denial, over all responsibility for ensuring cleaner air is being passed around. For example, air quality monitor officers working in Canterbury will inform government of their findings and government response puts the onus back upon the local council. Canterbury is not on the list for a low emission zone (see UK Clean Air Zones) so changes will have to be done at a local level, within the city council. As a city councillor,  I will start a campaign in collaboration with St Stephens Primary school to raise awareness and make sure all  car drivers turn engines off at the  level crossings.

A Labour council will:

  • Lead consultation on 20 mph zones near schools and in densely-populated areas, and work with headteachers, parents and local residents to encourage car-free alternatives to the school run.
  • Establish a climate change board aiming for the district to become carbon neutral by 2030, starting by ensuring CCC’s vehicle fleet evolves quickly to use the lowest emission vehicles possible.
  • Rigorously enforce the laws around litter and dog fouling and provide on-street recycling bins.
  • Start real-time air quality monitoring, including particulates, and regularly inform the public of progress towards cleaner air.
  • Consult with communities on creating free-flowing urban traffic, congestion zones and car free areas to reduce pollution.

Mel Dawkins, council candidate for St. Stephen’s.