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Cllr Jean Fooks proposes Air Quality as Key Health Indicator

April 16, 2014 11:43 AM

Liberal Democrat Cllr Jean Fooks proposed that the Oxfordshire Health and Wellbeing Board should include air quality as a key health indicator. At the Oxfordshire County Council meeting on Tuesday April 1st, Cllr Fooks said that the joint Health Scrutiny Committee should consider air quality and its effects on health as soon as possible. Cllr Fooks thinks future transport planning should recognise the risks to health from traffic, and to that end, the County Council should aim to reduce traffic by promoting public transport, cycling and walking and the use of electric or biomethane gas-fuelled or other low-pollution vehicles.

Air pollution is in the news at present. We have been warned of the serious effects of the Saharan dust that has been blown into the south of the UK recently, with vulnerable people being advised to stay indoors. Air pollution in Oxford consists mostly of nitrogen oxides and particulates, produced almost entirely by traffic emissions.

High pollution levels in central Oxford led to the 1999 implementation of the Oxford Transport Strategy, which closed Cornmarket to all traffic and banned through traffic during the day in High Street. This reduced pollution levels considerably but not enough to meet European and UK standards. The new Low Emission Zone requires buses to meet high standards but more is needed, especially to address the pollution from lorries and other freight vehicles.

The health effects of high levels of pollution are serious; respiratory and cardiovascular problems, asthma, irreversible under-development of lung growth in children living near busy roads.

As traffic is the main source of both nitrogen oxides and particulates in towns, reducing the volume of traffic and reducing the emissions from vehicles are the tools we have to remedy the situation. The County Council is the Highways Authority and as it is now the Public Health authority it has a duty of care to protect the health of its residents. This means that all transport strategies should take account of their likely effect on air quality and that new developments such as the Westgate Centre and the Northern Gateway should be carefully examined to ensure that they do not lead to unacceptable pollution levels.

Cllr Fooks suggested that the new John Lewis store in Oxford might follow the example of its store in Camden, which is introducing biomethane-fuelled Home Delivery vans.

Cllr Fooks said, 'I am delighted that the motion was supported by a clear majority in the Council, opposed only by some of the Conservative members.It was surprising that the Cabinet member for public heath opposed these practical ways to reduce the health risks posed by traffic congestion in Oxfordshire towns.'