Efforts to tackle air pollution will be stepped up in North Yorkshire following claims residents’ concerns over traffic fumes had been ignored.
North Yorkshire County Council officers said while the authority had limited jurisdiction to address air pollution, the authority could do more to challenge potential sources of pollution as it considered major, industrial-scale planning applications.
The officers made the admission before the council’s transport, economy and environment scrutiny committee as it examined the authority’s revised Air Quality Strategy.
The revised strategy follows recent research indicating there are between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths each year in the UK due to human-made air pollution.
The Government’s 2019 Clean Air Strategy set out a commitment to minimise human exposure to harmful concentrations of pollution, representing a change in focus towards tackling smaller and more diffuse sources of air pollution.
Despite this and the council having set a number of climate change targets, the meeting heard no changes had been made to the overall ambition of the strategy, and just minor amendments highlighting car sharing and e-bikes, and recognising the impact of moorland burning.
The existing strategy aims to raise the profile of improving air quality and work with other organisations, ensure improving air quality is a key consideration when planning and delivering services and supporting the use of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles.
The meeting heard a public consultation over the revised strategy had revealed only 46 per cent of the respondents thought the strategy was good and that the county had “clearly visible” pollution hotspots along main roads, such as the A1 and A19, and built-up areas, such as parts of Selby district.
Councillor John McCartney said objections to a recent planning planning application at a pollution hotspot, which saw residents and even a headteacher complain about the potential fumes, had been ignored by the council’s officers.
He said: “We’ve got this huge issue… but when residents raise issues about HGVs, specifically about going past this school, we are told it is not an issue, that the council’s strategies on climate change or the environment is not an issue for planning.
“There were options, it was next to a river and next to a railway line, and they were just pooh-poohed and ruled out. Planning needs to be part of the answer not part of the problem and at the moment it is part of the problem.
“There’s very little that the county council can physically do to make much difference. The one area they could is who they are giving planning permissions to and it’s ignored.”
Officers told the meeting the authority had recently introduced environmental impact assessments as part of the decision-making process in planning applications.
One officer told Cllr McCartney officers would review the system. He said: “The frustration is how much is within our gift to do, but you are quite right within planning there probably are things we can do and pay closer attention to the environmental impact assessments and the scrutinising of those.”