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Only one road in Maidstone now exceeds permitted pollution levels as air quality improves

Air quality has improved as pollution levels have dropped in almost every part of Maidstone.

Only one street in the borough now has air pollution above the permitted levels – and it is a road where 75 new flats have just been built.

Upper Stone Street remains polluted
Upper Stone Street remains polluted

The borough first declared an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) to tackle pollution in 2008.

At the time, it covered the whole of the Maidstone conurbation.

A number of areas where nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations exceeded the permitted level of 40mg per cubic metre were identified.

They included the High Street, Upper Stone Street, Well Road, the junction of Tonbridge Road and Fountain Lane, and the Wheatsheaf junction.

In 2018, the Air Quality Management Area was reduced to just the main carriageways through the district, based on improving data gathered in 2014.

The new tenants at Wrens Cross have moved into Maidstone's worst polluted street
The new tenants at Wrens Cross have moved into Maidstone's worst polluted street

Now, based on data gathered pre-Covid in 2019, the council says it can shrink the area yet again, because only one street exceeded the target levels – Upper Stone Street, between Wrens Cross and the junction with Old Tovil Road, which affected only 53 homes. Previously 1,400 homes had been in an area exceeding permitted levels.

Since the data was gathered, Geko Developments has created another 75 flats on the street out of the former county police headquarters at Wrens Cross.

All other areas are now below the permitted levels.

The council attributed the reduction in pollution primarily to the introduction of more efficient Euro VI standard engines, particularly in HGVs.

It also pointed to an increase in the uptake of electric and hybrid vehicles and a decrease in the popularity of diesel cars.

Green councillor Stuart Jeffery
Green councillor Stuart Jeffery

A proposal to reduce the AQMA was approved by the council's communities, housing and environment committee on Tuesday11, but not without some debate.

Visiting member Cllr Stuart Jeffery (Green) reminded the committee that pollution was said to kill 140 people a day across the UK, and that would equate to an average of around two a week in Maidstone.

He said that pollution could cause multiple adverse health effects, from brain damage and heart attacks, to stroke, cancer and lung disease.

The NHS had declared pollution to be a health emergency in 2019.

He said that although 40mg might be the current legal requirement, the World Health Organisation said that 10mg/m3 was the safe level.

Cllr Gordon Newton (Ind)
Cllr Gordon Newton (Ind)

He said that 90% of Maidstone's air quality monitoring tubes were still exceeding that WHO level.

He said: "It feels like the council is being complacent.

"Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas in the fight against air pollution, though of course that is entirely the wrong metaphor."

Several councillors found it hard to believe that the pollution at East Farleigh Bridge was below required levels, with traffic constantly queuing to cross the single-carriageway bridge and the railway level-crossing.

They were supported by Cllr Gordon Newton (Ind) who runs a business in Station Hill. He said: "Between 4pm and 6pm, the pollution is absolutely terrible. I have to keep the door to my shop shut at all times."

Cllr Lottie Parfitt-Reid. Picture: Lottie Parfitt-Reid (58975853)
Cllr Lottie Parfitt-Reid. Picture: Lottie Parfitt-Reid (58975853)

Cllr Lottie Parfitt-Reid (Con) asked: "We may be meeting the 40mg legal requirement but is there any reason why we can't aim for a more ambitious reduction?"

Officers said that legally AQMAs could only be declared on areas where measurements exceeded permitted levels, but they assured councillors that all areas would continue to be monitored and there was no reason why the council couldn't still pursue policies to reduce pollution still further.

Council leader David Burton said he thought the effects of pollution were even worse than that laid out by Cllr Jeffery. He said: "It's worse than 140 deaths a day, but rarely do coroners record the cause of death as due to pollution."

He assured councillors: "We are all on the same page in tackling this problem."

Earlier, Cllr Burton had explained to the committee why an update report on the council's biodiversity and climate change plan had been withdrawn from the agenda.

Maidstone Council leader David Burton
Maidstone Council leader David Burton

He said: "Frankly it was not holding us to account as well as it should have been."

He gave an example of the production of the council's sustainability planning policy as still being marked with a green traffic light, indicating it was on time, when in fact it was three years overdue.

He said: "Are we chasing real objectives or just ticking through a plan?"

He said he had asked officers to redraft a more meaningful report to be produced in a month's time.

Cllr Jeffery praised "his honesty".

Buses remain a key source of pollution
Buses remain a key source of pollution

After the meeting, Cllr Jeffery said: "Data shows that Maidstone has the second dirtiest fleet of Arriva buses in the entire country.

“It was sad to see the lack of opposition to the proposal to reduce the Air Quality Management Area.

"Councillors need to show some mettle to fight for what is right."

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