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Vice chairman of CPRE Rutland, Ron Simpson, writes about Clean Air Day 2021

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I write this column on June 17 which is Clean Air Day 2021. As vice chairman of CPRE Rutland, the countryside charity, readers would expect me to be interested in such a subject, writes Ron Simpson.

Indeed, air quality in the county might reasonably be expected to be a key issue addressed in the proposed CPRE ‘Future Rutland’ publication due later in the year. This has been delayed to avoid conflict or confusion with the much publicised current county council ‘Future Rutland Conversation’.

With a number of my Uppingham hats on, however, there are other local reasons why the basic human right of clean air has come to the top of my community agenda. These include the possibility of the emerging Uppingham Neighbourhood Plan adopting air quality policies for the future due to rising concern over the impact on future generations of increased traffic, housing and population. Also, the disturbing revelation by the local water authority that, due to improved measuring techniques, they are now aware that some of their plant may well have been causing a health threatening deterioration in air quality in one part of town for years.

Clean Air Day 2021
Clean Air Day 2021

Every year, air pollution causes up to 36,000 deaths in the UK. The World Health Organisation and the UK Government recognise that air pollution is the largest environmental health risk we face today. Poor air quality causes heart and lung diseases, is linked to low birth weight and children’s lung development, and may even contribute to mental health issues. The impact on older residents can be significant too!

Clean Air Day is the UK’s largest air pollution campaign, engaging thousands of people at hundreds of events, and reaching millions more through the media. Driven by a charity led campaign under the title of ‘Global Action Plan’, Clean Air Day brings together communities, businesses, schools and the health sector to improve public understanding of air pollution, build awareness of how air pollution affects us, and explains the easy actions we can all do to tackle air pollution thereby helping to protect the environment and our health.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has supported the campaign since the first Clean Air Day in 2017. The Scottish and Welsh governments are also on board. A large number of local authorities support the campaign. I am hopeful that Rutland County Council will join them soon.

Ron Simpson. Photo: Alan Walters
Ron Simpson. Photo: Alan Walters

World Health Organisation air quality guidelines offer global guidance on thresholds and limits for key air pollutants that pose health risks. Today, June 17, 2021, the Global Action Plan campaign revealed research data which finds that over a quarter of all UK schools are located in areas which are above World Health Organization guidelines for the pollutant PM2.5 (Particulate Matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less). PM2.5 is formed of tiny particles that can cross from the lungs into the blood and then move around the body causing conditions such as heart and lung disease.

There is an assumption that living in a rural area such as Rutland, we escape such concerns. Yet creeping urbanisation of our beautiful county, and more sophisticated measurement of the atmosphere in our towns and villages may be changing things. Perhaps it would be wise to listen to the calls for greater action to protect our, long thought to be idyllic, surroundings.

Here in Uppingham a particular threat has emerged which appears, as is so often the case, to be founded in a lack of corporate investment in protecting the environment. I speak of the Uppingham water treatment plant.

The water treatment plant in Uppingham
The water treatment plant in Uppingham

In a May 2010 letter to a neighbouring land owner, Anglian Water confirmed that there was no requirement for air quality/odour management at the plant and invited an application for a new sewer connection in respect of a detached home proposed for the neighbour’s land.

Now, in respect of a later application to build more homes, Anglian Water has confirmed in writing that improvement works at the plant, coupled with modern monitoring equipment, not only confirm that there is a long standing problem, but that the ‘improvement works’ are likely to lead to a measurable deterioration in air quality in that part of Uppingham and that there is no intent to modify the site design to prevent such pollution.

The advice of the Environment Agency is to raise the matter with Rutland County Council which has the legal powers to prevent such air pollution. Independent advisors have confirmed that the problem has been addressed elsewhere by plant design changes. Rutland environmental health officers have been invited to initiate an investigation. Let’s hope Clean Air Day 2021 will lead to the required improvements.

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