LEE Waters MS and Deputy Minister for Climate Change has spoken about the issue of air pollution on Sandy Road and Welsh Government plans to address the same issue across the whole of Wales. Mr Waters pointed out that not everyone in the Sandy Road area were in favour of a bypass and that in his belief, a new road was not the solution in part or as a whole.
When asked about the problem of pollution along Sandy Road Lee Waters replied: “The great difficulty in Sandy Road is that there a whole number of factors at play that knock into each other. It is a busy road, it’s always been a busy road. There are four schools on it. It is the main thoroughfare between one town and another. Overall, across the country, vehicle movements have grown. Add into the mix a large housing estate and you have got a problem. We said you have a problem and the council didn’t listen. So it is very frustrating for us to get the blame for not listening to residents when in fact we were warning this would happen in the first place. It is we are the ones that have created the public consultation when the council refused to speak with local residents. We’ve put forward options for the council to consider. It has taken a long tome to do it. They have eventually come up with an option which they’ve now got to sell and explain to residents because that’s their choice it is not our choice. I have no power over Carmarthenshire council at all as a local member of the Senedd. As a Minister in the Welsh Government for transport and climate change there are some things I can do across the piece and introducing a clean air act is going to be one of them. Having a target for what we call modal shift, which is getting people out of cars into other forms of transport across Wales is something I have been responsible for, which we are now going to be implementing and a significant amount of investment across Wales in what we call Active Travel, cycling and walking. Two thirds of car journeys are under five miles. We need to change that. That’s going to take time but that’s what we are trying to do.”
On the subject of a new road Mr Waters said: “Trying to engineer your way out of this by building another road has other consequences. You have spoken to a number of residents on Sandy Road as have I. There isn’t a uniform view amongst residents in Sandy Road. You talk about a bypass, which the council aren’t in favour of by the way. You are going to displace another set of residents because I am not sure if you have spoken to residents in the nearby Sandy Estate. They don’t want the road there. Whatever you do you are going to create problems for people. That’s the difficult position of politics because you make this sound as if there is a uniformed consensual of what to do and there isn’t. So that’s just not true and it’s not simple as you’re suggesting it is. You can make an argument that they should have created a bypass before the Millennium Coastal Park was developed. That’s a respectable argument but it did not happen. If you create one now you will be putting it through one of the main tourist attractions and recreational spots in the area, which would be unpopular with another bunch of people. It is extremely difficult to try to broker a way through when you have different groups of people wanting different things and there is no consensus in what to do. There is no simple answer for the congestion on Sandy Road. The council have come up with a scheme which they say will improve the congestion. It will deal with the issue of idling which makes the situation worse but that is not going to solve the air quality problem. The air quality problem can only be solved at root, which is to reduce the tailpipe emissions from cars. The big push towards electric cars will over ten years make a big dent into that and reduce traffic overall, which is what we are setting out to do. Simply building a road to shift the problem somewhere else just creates other problems.”
We pointed out that some residents were against the proposals and asked if he was willing to meet with those residents to look at the proposals and consider looking at the scientific evidence.
Mr Waters replied: “Obviously I have always tried to be helpful and find a way through this. That is why we did the consultation exercise in the first place. I think planting a green infrastructure can definitely alleviate and help. It doesn’t get rid f the problem but it can mitigate it to a degree. If there is an appetite locally to do that I would be very supportive. I don’t think that is going to be enough to please some of the main campaigners.”
We asked where the money would come from for the changes.
Mr Waters said: “It is going to be the Welsh Government paying for the roadworks not the council but the council make an application for funding. I have indicated to the council that we will fund the solution they come up with for Sandy Road. The detail of the scheme design that’s a matter for the council it is not something I am responsible for but I am always happy to broker a way through.”
We suggested things would get worse for residents especially their health. We highlighted the complaints of some residents that they and their children were now suffering with asthma.
Mr Waters said: “Whatever you decide to do it will badly affect some people. There are no good options here. There is no doubt that dirty air kills. It is very harmful for people’s health. There was an inquest reported in London this week where just the sort of case you were talking about where a young girl with asthma died as a result of living next to a busy road. There is no doubt that this is a public health problem and it needs to be addressed. The council have made it worse by building a large housing estate near an already congested road. These are the trade offs we have because there is a housing shortage. We want more houses. There aren’t sufficient houses for people on lower incomes, there aren’t sufficient houses for first time buyers. Our housing stock generally is far less than it needs to be. There is a demand and a necessity to build more houses. This is why we need to go to the root cause of this because all of your reporting has been about the symptoms of the problems not the fundamental root causes of the problems. That is what we need to look at because whenever we look at the symptoms you are just putting sticking plasters on things and they don’t last. The root cause here is the level of car ownership and the dirty way that the combustion engine works to create local air pollution and we need to tackle both those. We need cleaner cars and we need fewer cars and we need more public transport and we need more developments within walking distance of services and amenities. That is a journey we are on but getting different bits of government to move in the same direction when they are trying to deal with different sets of problems is like whack-a-mole, they deal with one bit and they don’t consider another bit. That is just the complexity of decision making, the complexity of people’s lives and the things they demand and decision makers do their best to respond to that but it is often imperfect.”
We asked if the Deputy Minister would be pressing for Sandy Road to be at the top of the list on any study into the dirtiest air hot spots in Wales.
Lee Waters replied: “ Every air quality management in Wales needs to be dealt with and Llanelli has a number of them. At the moment there is no obligation on the council to implement the report they simply have to publish the report. The air quality act that we are going to be passing within the Senedd term will change that and it will put an obligation on councils to set dates and targets which they can then be held to.”
On Thursday (Jun 17) we attended the community hall on Sandy Road to hear the views of residents It was an open invitation to meet the press. We also began contacting some residents by telephone and we are still in the process of doing this. The following player includes interviews with residents who wished to express their views. We have reported on issues on Sandy Road for more than 5 years. We have not only looked at the symptoms but the causes, possible solutions and future issues as a result of action or inaction. At all times we have sought the views of anyone wishing to express themselves through free speech. We remain an independent public news service free at the point of contact.
Residents also went on camera to voice their views. Some objected to plans to remove the frontage of their homes in order to allow a filter lane on the approach to the traffic lights. The filter lane would hold around three cars and a bus stop directly opposite the proposed lane would halt any traffic on the approach to the lights. Another bus stop bridges a junction and appears to be in the wrong place. Both are set to remain.
Campaigner Ray Jones insists that a relief road is the only solution and has written endlessly to Lee Waters and Nia Griffith as well as to local press to air his views. He also showed us figures for air quality over a number of years and the results were quite shocking. Month on month the levels were over the dangerous level.
Residents say that heavy vehicles are causing damage to their homes and the resulting fumes have caused health related issues such as asthma. One resident claimed that in a recent survey 80% of residents along the road said that they had had respiratory problems.
On the day we attended (Clean Air Day) the traffic was relentless, bumper to bumper all day long.
Residents having their say at our mobile studio. David Richards says he has no faith in the politicians and has told them so face to face in his doorstep when they were canvassing.
The proposed route for a relief road would make use of rough former industrial ground running from the entrance to the Millennium fields and exiting at the old industrial site of Old Castle Works.
Residents like this man, complained of respiratory problems and said that they worried for the future health of local children.
Editor’s Comment: The environmentalists might be forgiven for believing that the Welsh Government has done a U Turn on its promises to make Wales an environmentally friendlier place to live. This week Cardiff Council were given the OK to use £300k to widen a road and narrow a pavement along Castle Street. It reverses previous work whereby pavements were widened. Clean Air Cymru have criticised the move and the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS.
Mr Waters has also been involved in looking for solutions to the pollution on Sandy Road in his constituency. Residents there have been growingly concerned about their health as a result of increases in pollution levels. Here too the solution appears to be narrowing the pavements and widening the road. As we will see the opposite is believed to be beneficial to tackling pollution.
What the experts say:
In the UK alone, air pollution from traffic is estimated to be responsible for the early deaths of twenty to thirty thousand 30,000 people, every year. Dr Samantha Walker, director of policy and research at Asthma UK, said polluted air could be affecting an estimated half a million children with asthma in the UK.
Four million cases of childhood asthma could be caused by air pollution from traffic – around 13% of those diagnosed each year, a global study suggests. Current pollution guidelines may need changing because most children developing asthma live in areas within recommended levels, the authors say.
The World Health Organisation estimates that every year, outdoor air pollution is linked to more than three million premature deaths – making it the world’s greatest environmental health risk.
BBC info on pollution
What is air pollution?
Air pollution refers to a substance in the air that has undesirable consequences. Typically, these consequences include one or more of the following:
Irritation, headaches, and/or difficulty breathing
Health problems, including birth defects, lung and heart disease, cancer, heart attack, and death
Damage to vegetation and crops
Climate change, and impact on the oceans
Solutions for tackling pollution include
Creating pedestrian only areas, especially where there are lots of people.
Implementing low emission zones: areas for low, or zero, emission vehicles only.
Setting up areas where diesel vehicles are not allowed. This could be challenging for deliveries though; so perhaps schedule deliveries outside of busy periods and/or encourage a new zero emission urban logistics service.
Modifying diesel vehicles with technologies that improve their emissions.
Switching bus fleets from diesel to gas, alcohol, hydrogen or electric power.
Targeting the worst 10 percent of vehicles (which can cause up to half of all the pollution). At the simplest level, this could be enforced by police and traffic wardens by recording the number plates of smoking vehicles, and sending their owners warning letters then fines for repeat offenders.
Natural pollution solutions:
The humble conifer is believed to be a good pollution busting tree to plant as a hedge. absorbing pollution in more open areas. Hedges can trap toxins at exhaust pipe level, so reduce people’s direct exposure to harmful pollutants.
Lead author Prof Prashant Kumar said councils should try to plant low hedges between pedestrians and the street if pavements are wide enough.
There is conflict here as councils move to charge residents for disposing of green waste such as hedge trimmings.
Car is King
Whatever one believes to be the solution, there can be no doubt that the problem of pollution is complex and involves that long and historic battle with the motor car. In a rural area like Carmarthenshire cycling to work would be fine, if the paths were off the roadside and if we all opted to cycle. The reality is that most will not give up their comfortable car especially in Welsh weather.
Whatever the experts suggest there will sure to be some resistance from motorists. It doesn’t help the residents of Sandy Road who face seeing cars idling beneath their windows sans hedge. The cyclists and walkers would dare not risk a dash along the road for fear of the impact on their lungs.
Would a new road solve the pollution problem?
Roads do not cause pollution, vehicles do. The busier the road, the more pollution. Residents of Sandy Road have called for a bypass as a solution to their woes.
Would a bypass really solve their problems?
The arguments against a bypass at Crosshands have been ignored with the new construction circumventing a peat bog. Less cars are travelling along this new bypass than on Sandy Road.
So why can a bypass be sanctioned across green fields, with less traffic and close to a site of special scientific interest but not in an urban area where traffic levels are at breaking point and set to increase with more housing developments?
Reasons not to build a bypass near Sandy Road have included:
‘Sea winds would still blow back the pollution to Sandy Road’.
That is unlikely given the research which suggests that the pollution will settle on pollution absorbing trees in open spaces and low level hedges in more confined spaces. All the science points to roads being bordered by trees and hedges.
Is it any wonder that residents of Sandy Road feel abandoned, ignored and resigned to their fate of ill health?
Pics and videos. Elkanah Evans