Air pollution in Thurrock – a missing piece of the jigsaw…

It has come to light that pollution levels around the Dartford Crossing have been excluded from government air quality assessments because for some bizarre, inexplicable reason, it was classified as a ‘rural’ road: Dartford Crossing excluded from pollution assessmentshttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-39152942 The crossing consists of the Dartford Tunnel and the QEII Bridge and is designated as the A282 – this links the M25 north and south of the Thames. Given the the A282 runs from just north of the A2 outside Dartford to just below the junction with the A13 near Purfleet, how it ever became classified as a ‘rural’ road is baffling to say the least… The A282 can be described as a lot of things (often involving the use of profane language) but it definitely ain’t rural! It has now been re-classified…

Because the A282 was for many years classified as a ‘rural’ road, nitrogen dioxide levels were not reported to the EU. It was also excluded from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) air quality modelling assessment. Now this inconvenient (for the road lobby) ‘anomaly’ has come to light, DEFRA has promised to include pollution data “in any future assessments reported to the EU”. Bear in mind that we’ll soon be starting the process of exiting the EU so how long this reporting will last is anyone’s guess.

This anomaly only came to light because Dartford Borough Council have been carrying out their own air quality measurements for the last 15 years and it was they who noticed this stretch of road was not included in the government’s National Air Quality plan. Public Health England estimate that Dartford has one of the highest percentage of deaths that can be attributed to long term exposure to particulate air pollution in Kent – Thurrock has the highest estimated percentage in the East of England.

How this revelation will affect the discussion about the preferred route for the Lower Thames River Crossing that appears to be going on behind closed doors is difficult to tell. Mind you, predicting anything to do with Highways England is difficult to say the least! We would like to think this discovery of the missing piece of the jigsaw when it comes to assessing the impact of air pollution in the region would prompt people to take a step back and start to do some serious thinking about the future.

We can’t go on with an economic and political system that puts economic growth at any cost ahead of people’s health and well being. We can’t go on with a transport system fuelled by finite fossil fuels, many of which are sourced from volatile regions of the world such as the Middle East. We’re old enough to remember the energy crisis of 1973 when the Yom Kippur and the subsequent OPEC embargo on oil exports led to chaos in the UK – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis It would appear that the lessons of that crisis have not been absorbed by a younger generation of politicians and planners.

At some point, sooner rather than later, society has to start seriously thinking about how we plan our economy, agriculture, transport and urban settlements in a future where the supply of oil will not be at the levels we currently have and will be in decline. Also, there are issues of air pollution, CO2 levels and noise pollution to be considered. Not to mention quality of life issues in an area criss-crossed by motorways. Quality of life is a very subjective area and part of a wider debate about the kind of society we want to live in. To put it bluntly, we can’t go on like this…

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