Mat Kiely, Strategic Lead Transportation Services, presented the report which gave an update on the actions, measures and initiatives undertaken by the service to tackle Air Quality issues to support and promote healthier lifestyles and to tackle health inequalities in Thurrock. The update also included information from the 2018 Air Quality Annual Status Report (ASR) which identified the actions and progress towards monitoring air quality in Thurrock.
Councillor Abbas queried if the cycle paths on the southern end of the Purfleet by-pass were part of improvement plans to help with air quality. Mat Kiely confirmed Purfleet by-pass was a part of the cycle improvement plan which the service was looking into.
Referring to London Road in Grays, Councillor Abbas commented on the increasing worry of air quality in the area and questioned if any steps would be undertaken to reduce the pollution. Confirming the area was being looked at; Mat Kiely said the plan was to reduce the impact of pollution on air quality. The area of London Road was challenging due to it being an industrial area and the aim was to encourage people to walk or cycle. The service would need to look at the Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA) to check what steps would need to be taken regarding London Road.
Continuing on with London Road, the Vice-Chair asked if there were plans to plant trees in the area and who the service consulted with on where trees should be planted. She suggested using low hedges instead of trees which was better as low hedges would not cause view obstruction for drivers. In reply, Mat Kiely said the service worked with colleagues in the Environment Department’s Tree Officer on tree planting. Removed trees were replanted and the plans included the planting of trees. The service worked on a 1:3 ratio where the removal of one tree was replanted with three where practical.
The Vice-Chair suggested the service consult with Tree UK who would be able to provide best practise on tree planting. She went on to say that before the area became increasingly industrialised, there had been hedges and trees which had been wonderful and this was no longer the case. Agreeing that a cycle hub would be great to improve air quality, the Vice-Chair felt the planting of trees needed to be considered too. She went on to question how the A13 Widening would affect the air quality as there was no mention of the scheme within the report. There were houses within the area that was affected and trees had been pulled out for the scheme as well. Mat Kiely answered the A13 Widening Scheme was a report of its own and the service would need to speak with the Major Projects Team on plans.
The Committee discussed further on the planting of trees. Daren Spring, Assistant Director Street Scene and Leisure said the Tree Strategy had been brought to the Committee at the last Cleaner, Greener and Safer Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting in December 2018. Some trees had been removed because the roots were too big or because they were dying. He reassured the Committee that their comments would be brought to the relevant team.
Councillor Rigby asked how often the air quality readings were measured. Mat Kiely answered air quality was continuously monitored by the Environmental Protection team with large monitoring stations and diffusion tubes. Trends and issues were identified from the gathered data which suggested air quality was affected in traffic and weather conditions. Damp weather conditions appeared to be better for the air quality.
Referring back to tree planting, Councillor Rigby thought it was not practical to plant trees alongside London Road due to the lack of space but felt there was a need to improve air quality there because there were houses in the area. Agreeing trees had to be considered, Mat Kiely went on to say there were many other topics to consider such as electric charging in car parks for electric cars. Hybrid buses were already in place and helped with air quality. Electric buses were something that could be considered in the future as well.
Looking at the AQMA table in the report, the Chair noted there were a lot of investigations that had been undertaken. She queried when there would be an outcome of these investigations and when the Committee would hear of the outcome. Mat Kiely would update the Committee with the outcomes. The Chair went on to mention there was little information on the air quality in Calcutta Road, Tilbury and was aware of the health adequacies in Tilbury which had been brought to the Committee’s attention in the Annual Health Report earlier in the municipal year. It was pleasing to see a plan for a cycle hub in Tilbury and the Chair hoped people would use it.
The Chair asked if the Council operated a cycle to work scheme for employees. Confirming a cycle to work scheme was in place, Mat Kiely explained how the scheme worked through salary sacrifice and said the scheme needed better promotion.
Referring to the Lower Thames Crossing (LTC), the Chair understood the Council had asked for an independent report on the impact of LTC on air quality. She asked when this report would be received. Mat Kiely was unable to confirm when the report would be completed but would check and relay back to the Committee.
On National Clean Air Day, the Chair questioned if and how this was promoted by the service. Mat Kiely explained the service worked with schools through encouraging parents to turn car engines off whilst waiting for their children during drop off and pick up times. This had been successful last year and the service aimed to do the same this year. This strategy worked better with parents and schools as opposed to bus operators which were more challenging.
The Chair queried the service’s plan to tackle health inequalities. Mat Kiely answered the Public Health Team were working with communities on a strategy and communicating with GPs on scorecards and identifying areas that required more help.
On HGV pollution, Councillor Fletcher thanked Officers for explaining and speaking with him on this topic recently. He brought up two issues which was budget and acquiring support from other Boroughs to tackle HGV pollution. Councillor Fletcher questioned what the service was doing to increase budget and what work was being investigated. Mat Kiely explained the service had a £950,000budget per year and they aimed to work with Public Health of England in order to acquire funding under Section 106. With gained funding, this left the service to spend the £950,000 on other projects and schemes.
Councillor Fletcher pointed out that relying on external funding was a problem and delayed solutions. As air quality was identified from transport issues, Mat Kiely said the service would have to spend from their budget. Councillor Fletcher went on to mention the continuing issue of metallic dust in Tilbury on which residents were still concerned about. He asked if there was a possibility to put pressure on the Environment Agency to check the metallic dust and to test it. Giving reassurance that the Council was continuing to monitor the situation, Mat Kiely also said regular conversations were being held with the involved parties. The leading party was the Environment Agency and the Council was urging them to investigate if the metallic dust was hazardous to people’s health. Initial monitoring of the metallic dust had shown it to be not hazardous but the Council continued to push for further investigation.
On Dalroy Close in Ockendon, Councillor Fletcher sought clarification on whether there were plans to concrete the grass verges for parking spaces. Unaware of plans for concreting grass verges, Mat Kiely said the Council had plans to prevent parking on grass verges as part of the ‘Kerb It’ scheme. The plan was to cover grass verges with a mesh material which would still allow grass to grow through. The service had been made aware of concerns on the scheme and the Portfolio Holder was looking into these.
The Chair asked that the report be brought back to the Committee in the next municipal year and added this as a new recommendation which the Committee agreed on.
1.1 That the Cleaner, Greener and Safer Overview and Scrutiny Committee noted and considered the monitoring regime, measures and initiatives set out in the report.
1.2 That the Cleaner, Greener and Safer Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed that the report form part of the 2019/20 work programme.
The Vice-Chair left at 20.15.