Published: 20:28, 29 July 2020
| Updated: 20:36, 29 July 2020
The most polluted areas of Kent have been revealed.
According to the latest data 53 areas of the county did not meet the standard for safe and clean air in 2018 - but the figures collected by green campaigning group Friends of the Earth show the number of areas not meeting this objective is steadily decreasing.
The Annual Air Quality Objective is set at 40ug/m3 of NO2, which is currently legally binding under EU law. The leading cause of NO2 pollution is emissions from road traffic, which is also a huge source of climate-wrecking emissions.
Between 2017 and 2018, only three district and borough councils saw a rise in areas with NO2 levels higher than 40ug/m3. These were Dartford increasing from eight to nine areas, Maidstone from six to seven areas and Swale from nine to 13 areas.
Upper Stone Street in Maidstone had the highest level of NO2 in the county at 77.2ug/m3, down from 79.3ug/m3 the previous year.
A Maidstone Bouogh Council spokesperson said: "Upper Stone Street is unique in Maidstone, and not representative of other areas. It’s a major north south route which is very busy. It has two lanes of traffic going up a fairly steep hill, meaning that vehicle engines work harder, and as the road is narrow in places, the pollution is less able to disperse.
"The Council has been evaluating a large number of measures to improve the situation on Upper Stone Street, for example, we have been working with the local bus companies to get cleaner vehicles operating there, and are currently working with a consultant to consider what benefits could be achieved through green infrastructure in the area.
"MBC is also working with Kent County Council to consider whether we can reduce illegal stopping in Upper Stone Street, as this adds to congestion and worsens pollution."
Besides Ashford and Folkestone and Hythe - who have consistently had no areas breaching the air quality objective between 2016 and 2018 - all other councils saw a decrease in highly polluted areas since 2016.
This means the county has seen an overall decrease in polluted areas; from 86 in 2016, to 69 in 2017, to 53 in 2018.
In 2016, Caterbury had nine areas with high NO2 levels, which dropped to just one area in 2018 when Canterbury City Council launched its Air Quality Action Plan.
The plan includes, among many others, the park and pedal scheme, maximising use of low-emission buses, encouraging taxi drivers to use low-emission vehicles, increasing the number of electric vehicle charging points, encouraging cycling and walking, and producing signs encouraging motorists to switch off their engines outside schools, shops and level crossings.
However, the Friends of the Earth argue: "Although the most recent data shows a marginal improvement, there is still a shocking number of locations exceeding the Air Quality Objective, which local authorities have to achieve."
Across England, 1,360 sites were found to have breached the annual Air Quality Objective in 2018, which is 231 fewer than the previous year.
Simon Bowens, clean air campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Failing to fix air pollution costs lives. It also shows a failure to address the climate crisis because the sources and solutions are intrinsically linked.
"If ministers want to avoid a return to the health-damaging and illegal levels of air pollution we had before lockdown, their enthusiasm for ‘active travel’ needs to be a permanent switch and not just a short-term gap plugger.
“The government must also end its damaging fixation on building more roads. You can’t justify this by planning to phase out polluting petrol and diesel vehicles and replace them with electric ones.
"We need to go much further than just getting out of one type of car and into another. Investment in better cycling and walking should be part of a fair and green post-coronavirus economic recovery plan aimed at creating a cleaner, fairer future.”
Swale Borough Council and Folkestone and Hythe District Council have been contacted for comment.