Leading councillors reject tolls as answer to A32 pollution problems

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Action needs to be taken to reduce pollution on the A32 – but councillors in Fareham have rejected the idea of bringing in any kind of toll.

Along with 29 other local authorities, Fareham Borough Council has been identified as having persistently exceeded safe levels of air pollution. This is because of the A32, near the border with Gosport, and because of this Fareham’s council must work to reduce levels of pollutants, and specifically nitrogen dioxide, found most commonly in car emissions.

Introducing charges for the most polluting vehicles is one of the measures in the government’s Air Quality Plan that local authorities can take – and it is one that the local Friends of the Earth group thinks is a good idea.

Media officer for Gosport and Fareham Friends of the Earth Norman Pasley said: ‘We think it would be reasonable to have some charges on the worst roads in order to encourage people not to buy diesel vehicles.

‘There are congestion charges in London and it is making a difference to congestion and air quality.

‘However it is worrying that the same solution for bigger cities is being suggested as the same solution for Fareham.’

He added: ‘We suggest charges are the way to go unless the council offers an alternative that would allow the air pollution to be reduced quickly.’

But this call has been shot down by leading councillors in Fareham.

Council leader Sean Woodward said: ‘We will not be introducing charging and vehicle bans as these vehicles need to access the area and the economy is likely to pay a heavy price for such proposals if enacted.

‘I do not believe that merely declaring Clean Air Zones improves anything.

‘Real action is needed which includes improving our infrastructure and I believe that the provision of the Stubbington Bypass will have a real and long term effect on air quality in the areas highlighted in our borough.’

Executive member for health and public protection Councillor Trevor Cartwright has previously talked about the A32 in Fareham and Gosport facing a charge due to the fact it has pinpointed as the major contributor to air pollution levels but he also downplayed fears it would be implemented.

Cllr Cartwright said: ‘I don’t think a charge would be a popular option for the A32 especially since for Gosport people that is their main road but at the moment there are lots of road improvements around Fareham and there have been improvements over the past few years.’

Drivers in cities such as London will face a £10 charge to drive through the centre from as soon as next month.

Cllr Cartwright continued: ‘The government did a computer model that said we have a problem and as such we now have an enforcement notice placed on us.

‘I am sure if we don’t meet their expectations we will be taken to task over it.’

In its report, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has revealed that to ensure local authorities are working towards reducing their pollution levels, when it comes to granting cash it will look more favourably on those making improvements and keeping to deadlines.

Cllr Cartwright added: ‘We are doing a feasibility study and the results will be coming to the executive in a few months’ time.

‘Road improvements are not the total solution but it will make a considerable difference.’

Air pollution contributes to about 99 early deaths a year across Fareham and Gosport and medical studies show air pollution can increase chances of asthma and bronchitis.

Gosport and Fareham Friends of the Earth organisations across the boroughs are concerned about the high levels of nitrogen dioxide and want change.

Co-ordinator, Tim Pratt said: ‘Dirty air is a problem in Gosport and Fareham. Until we have clean air everywhere, people will continue to have their lives cut short.

‘The government’s latest plans just pass the buck to local authorities.’

FoE believes there are three clear solutions to the problem including a comprehensive diesel scrappage scheme, clean air zone charging and funding for local authorities.

The government has committed to banning polluting petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.

Mr Pasley said: ‘Banning diesel and petrol cars can be achieved by 2040 and companies are showing a willingness and there are movements towards electric cars in the industry and decent scrappage schemes.

‘Diesel cars are approximately six times worse than petrol cars so even a move to petrol would improve things.’

However Cllr Woodward believes this would not be a viable solution.

He added: ‘To propose the phasing out of petrol and diesel is hardly a policy that I can take seriously.’

FoE has also spoken about giving local authorities power to refuse developments that would lead to dirtier air and be provided with funding to create the safe and comfortable walking and cycling routes that will encourage cleaner transport choices.

Mr Pasley said: ‘We need walking and cycling opportunities throughout the area. Many people use the car for short journeys about town when they could easily walk or cycle to their destination.

‘We would be happy to hear any improvements for air quality that the council has.’