MOTORISTS are being urged to clean up their act and bring down air pollution levels in the town.
The early months of lockdown demonstrated the adverse affect traffic on the roads has on air quality in Swindon – and on Clean Air Day people are being encouraged to maintain those habits for the sake of their family members and friends.
Research as the country shut up shop to stop the spread of Covid-19 showed the levels of nitrogen dioxide detected at the Walcot monitoring station dropped from a mean average of 14.5 mg/m3 from March 19-26 2019 to 7.6 mg/m3 in the equivalent week this year.
Nitrogen dioxide is highly toxic and produced by burning fossil fuels such as petrol or diesel used by vehicles.
Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for climate change Keith Williams said: “The only place in Swindon which needs an air quality management action plan is Kingshill Road.
“The levels of nitrogen dioxide are measured at the front door of the houses and some of the houses at the top are right up against the road.”
Before lockdown levels of nitrogen dioxide at some houses was measured at 56 micrograms per cubic metre, which is 140 per cent of the allowed limits of 40 mg/m3.
Coun Williams said: “We took readings at the same doors (during lockdown) and they were at 40.2mg/m3 – right on the threshold of being acceptable. It really demonstrates the difference.”
Now traffic levels have risen Coun Williams says the air quality has dropped again – but it shows what can be done.
He said: “I’m optimistic – we’ve done some modelling on levels of traffic and air quality. It replaces older work modelling what was going to happen with increased numbers of houses, and to be fair we haven’t built as nearly as many houses.
“But there is a massive change going on with the move to electric vehicles, either plug-in self-charging hybrids, or fully electric.
“There are more than 300,000 electric cars registered – and more every month. And in Swindon we are ahead of the curve on this.”
Swindon is listed as the ninth town or city in the UK for electric car use with 5,227 vehicles – nearly two per cent of the total.
But Coun William said more work needs to be done.
He said: “There’s no room for complacency – there’s a lot more to do, but we have been shown what happens when there’s a drop in traffic.”
Two years ago, the air quality in parts of Kingshill Road meant the council was obliged to bring in an air quality management action plan.
It is one of the main routes out of Old Town and the town centre to the west and the combination of heavy traffic and a steep hill is not conducive to clean air. Vehicles work harder, burning more fuel and pumping out more emissions, and tightly-packed terraced houses close to the road mean the air there is poor.
The air quality management action plan put forward by the council includes signs discouraging drivers from using the road and restricting heavy lorries from using the hill.
A council spokesman said: “Work is continuing on the air quality action Plan for Kingshill Road, though progress has slowed in recent months due to the pandemic.
“A status report is currently with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for their review and will be published in due course. We will ensure residents are kept up to date as things progress.”
Another measure which could help would be converting the town’s fleet of buses to electric engines.
The council has made a bid for £50m of government funding to allow the two companies serving the town – Swindon’s Bus Company and Stagecoach – to replace every in-service bus with an electric one.
It could see 200 new electric buses in the roads, reducing carbon emissions by 7,400 tonnes and also cutting the particularly harmful PM2.5 particulate pollution, much of which is caused by vehicles. Buses and lorries producing more per vehicle than a car.
Swindon’s Bus Company already runs electric buses in Salisbury and managing director Andrew Wickham said: “Electric buses are have the potential to significantly improve air quality in our towns and cities.
“I’m looking forward to working with the council to help make the Electric Bus Town proposal a reality here in Swindon.”
As well as a lack of traffic, lockdown saw more people than ever walking and cycling – two of the few things we were permitted to do out of doors.
The borough council is spending £200,000 on seven schemes to improve walking and cycling routes in seven key locations, including the Old Town railway path, Kingsdown Lane, Station Road, Faringdon Road and Marlborough Road.
It hit an early bump in the road when it had to abandon its scheme in Commercial Street, where one of the lanes was entirely given over to cycles.
Traders in the area were up in arms saying they hadn’t been consulted and there was nowhere for delivery vans and lorries to stop – and people were seen moving the temporary barriers to allow cars to pass through.
The council emphasised it would be doing something in Farnsby Street and Commercial Road but would have a rethink.