Support for relief road as air quality plan is signed off

Derbyshire Dales District Council has signed off its Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) for Ashbourne - and dispelled the myth that the Plan was ever seen as an alternative to the town's long awaited relief road.

At a meeting last night (Thursday), all political parties on the Council's Community and Environment Committee unanimously approved the AQAP within the deadline set in a warning letter received in March this year from Defra.

There was a sharp rebuke too for "people with a high political profile locally" who, the meeting heard, were trying to muddy the waters in terms of where the responsibility lies for a relief road.

Ashbourne ward member Councillor Peter Dobbs, a member of the controlling Progressive Alliance of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green councillors, stressed that the District Council, while wholly supportive of a relief road, had no powers to bring it to fruition. This was in the gift of Derbyshire County Council, which needed to find funding from national and regional resources, including the government of the day.

He said:

"You will note that the Ashbourne relief road is mentioned, not because it falls within the timescale of an Action Plan but because it is important to clarify that this remains a longer term goal for this council.

"From the response to the consultation it seems that many believed that an Action Plan was in some way an alternative to the relief road. This was not and never can be the case."

Councillor Dobbs also clarified the District Council's part in what has been described as a "ULEZ style approach" to Ashbourne, telling fellow councillors:

"You will see in the document how many measures suggested during the development of the plan have been removed by the relevant authority - County Highways - and their reasoning. This is entirely consistent with their statutory position."

The meeting heard that although the District Council could offer up suggestions to mitigate air pollution, only the County Council, as the highways authority, could implement them and had made it clear in correspondence that they opposed the suggested introduction of a 20mph zone within the town and weight limits on the A515, which would divert heavy goods traffic.

However, Conservative councillor David Chapman said the County Council seemed to have "misinterpreted" the suggestion to divert HGVs away from Ashbourne, adding:

"Their figures are not correct; it's as simple as that."

Councillor Dobbs added:

"It has been a very long journey developing this Action Plan – over three years. However, the many concerns voiced in this committee and elsewhere during those years do seem to have resulted in something that is no longer a plan to have a plan but does now contain some actions that make sense.

"If more modest in its ambition and scope than some would have preferred, the Action Plan does now come with a comprehensive monitoring system that will enable rapid assessment of its effectiveness.

"However Action Plans are required to work. If they are shown not to afford the required degree of mitigation then the legislation has measures that enable the Plan to be developed so that it does work.

"This Council is entirely supportive of the relief road project as is stated in the Local Plan, however it cannot be emphasised enough that delivery of that road is very much in the hands of the County Council and the regional and national funding sources that it can engage.

"In contrast the production of an Action Plan is the responsibility of the District Council although almost all of the potentially significant interventions fall within the remit of the County Council. The result is before you today.

"Although Defra have not really given us much alternative, I am confident that we will be in a stronger position with this Plan submitted and implemented than without it."

ashbourne market place

Another Ashbourne Member, Councillor Rob Archer said:

"Not in this council, but there are people with a quite high profile on the political scene in this area who seem to be trying to deliberately muddy the waters here in terms of what we can do and who is responsible for what.

"I think that is really unhelpful and I want to thank Councillor Dobbs for making it perfectly clear what we are responsible for and what we can do and to make sure members of the public in Ashbourne and the area understand this and don't start getting confused, saying why is the District Council not supporting a relief road; why is it trying to bring in other measures?

"This is simply not true and is an attempt to play political games with something that is serious. We all need to be working together to get the best outcomes for the people of Ashbourne."

In its preamble, the approved Action Plan notes that the majority of emissions in Ashbourne arise from HGVs and cars, with no discernible contribution from point sources or industry. The AQAP states:

"Traffic modelling has found that a relief road is the desirable option to secure a medium to long-term reduction in heavy goods vehicles travelling through the town centre, and consequential long-term air quality improvement. "Derbyshire County Council are committed to progressing an A515 Relief Road, but this is considered a longer-term mitigation measure.

"A western relief road alignment has been found to be the preferred route for existing HGVs and other vehicles. Work streams are ongoing to progress this option, and there are a number of statutory work packages that are needed to be completed ahead of delivery of a A515 Ashbourne Relief Road, including planning and land assembly. "However, given the anticipated longer-term benefits of HGV and other motorised vehicle reduction in the town centre associated with delivery of the Relief Road an Action has been included to monitor further development of the proposals."

A copy of the approved AQAP can be found here AQAP submission [PDF 4.5MB].

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What is an Air Quality Action Plan?

An action plan is a method of reporting to Defra to advise them on how we plan to meet the national Air Quality Objectives that are being exceeded in Ashbourne. Here's more information on Air Quality Objectives.

The measures contained in our AQAP, when adopted, are designed to make progress on improving air quality in Ashbourne in the time that remains until the relief road hopefully becomes a reality. These measures will be reported on annually and the content posted here on our website.

You can read the AQAP submitted to Defra in full here AQAP submission [PDF 4.5MB], but here are the headlines:

  • Action 1: Delivery of an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) solution to optimise traffic flow through the A515 air quality management area to provide more free-flow conditions which will in combination deliver air quality improvements. This solution will include upgrading the A517 Park Road and Derby Road five-ways junction traffic signals and installing new traffic signals at the Station Road/Church Road junction.
  • Action 2: Investigate tree canopy pollution dispersal. Where there is a high density of tree canopy cover, as in the situation on Buxton Road, Ashbourne, the flow of air may be reduced and constrain the dispersal of pollutants by intensifying a ‘street canyon’ effect. Work to reduce the density of tree cover guided by the arboricultural officer of the District Council, by way of selected tree removal, including removal of diseased trees, the lifting of the general tree canopy, and removal of re-growth from previously removed tree canopy has been completed. Further work has been undertaken at Victoria Court to remove several more trees and this appears to have had a positive effect on Nitrogen Oxide levels.
  • Action 3: Active Travel Promotion. Defra air quality guidance states that increasing walking and cycling can help improve air quality, combat climate change, improve health and wellbeing, and tackle congestion on our roads. Many residents both live and work in the town, so there is significant potential to encourage as many people as possible who currently drive short journeys to walk or cycle instead. The Ashbourne Reborn planned improvements to widen the footways in St John Street and Dig Street/Compton will make this proposition more attractive.
  • Action 4: Electric Vehicle Charging Points. There is wide Government and local policy support for a transition to zero emission vehicles and better air quality by supporting further installation of charge-point infrastructure. While concerns persist regarding heavy goods vehicle (HGV) emissions on the A515, there exists a notable opportunity to reduce emissions by facilitating the transition to low or zero emission vehicles, particularly in sectors where a significant proportion of fleet are non-HGVs.
  • Action 5: Business and School Travel Planning. DEFRA air quality guidance notes that implementation of behavioural change measures can support a reduction in trips by car by switching to more sustainable and active forms of transport, including cycling and walking. The Action Plan seeks to undertake measures including
    • :Workplace travel plans
    • School travel plans - the County Council is encouraging all schools in Derbyshire to sign-up to Modeshift STARS (a centre of excellence for delivery of effective travel plans) including those in Ashbourne.
  • Action 6: Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) implementation including bus priority. Promoting and improving public transport is integral to increasing the number of local journeys being undertaken by sustainable travel modes. The County Council has successfully secured Government funding to implement its BSIP. It is intended that early actions in support of the BSIP will include bus priority.
  • Action 7: Engagement with minerals and logistics companies. Both County and District Councils can collaborate with other organisations and businesses to encourage and support change for more efficient transport operations. We know the minerals industry has been taking steps to ensure vehicle fleets are Euro 6 compliant, with all, or close to all, vehicles now being complaint across major operators and one operator is currently trialling an electric HGV which will inform future fleet decisions. Driver training has shown to have significant positive impacts on driver behaviours and efficiencies. Successful initiatives include driver league tables and rewards, as well bonus schemes based around fuel economy.
  • Relief Road: Derbyshire County Council Cabinet approved a preferred option for a Western Relief Road in 2021. This option has also been assessed as most likely to help resolve air quality issues by reducing the volume of traffic through the town centre (particularly northbound). The County Council is carrying out work packages to bring forward the proposal in the medium term. Next steps are to prepare a planning application and commission the necessary supporting reports and execute a preliminary scheme design. Following this there will be a land assembly phase and a design and construction phase.

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