Idling cars should shut off their engines in traffic to cut town's pollution - and Northampton Borough Council should enforce it, says labour leader

Buses queue along in the Drapery in a traffic jam.
Buses queue along in the Drapery in a traffic jam.
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Buses, taxis and motorists should shut their engines off while idling in traffic to reduce Northampton's pollution, a borough councillor has said.

The policy should be "enforced" across the town to curb pollutant levels and would have an immediate benefit, says Northampton's labour leader Danielle Stone.

The town has seen severe traffic jams in the town centre around the bus station and in Kingsthorpe in recent months.

The town has seen severe traffic jams in the town centre around the bus station and in Kingsthorpe in recent months.

The comments come as recommendations for the Northampton Borough Council's draft emissions strategy are discussed at a full cabinet meeting tonight (June 21).

But as this week's ongoing heatwave threatens to cause more pollution problems, other parties say the emissions strategy looks "weak and unfocused" with not enough being done to combat pollution on a short-term basis.

Councillor Stone said: "I'm very disappointed in the proposed emissions strategy. We have a serious pollution issue in the town and it's urgent that it gets addressed. The proposals are only looking at long-term plans and we need something done now."

A Northampton Borough Council report claims that one-in-20 deaths in Northampton, or roughly 102 deaths a year, can be attributed to air pollutants, and in particular pointed to the diesel engine byproduct nitrogen dioxide as the main cause of health problems.

Traffic jams are pointed to as a main contributor to air pollutants.

Traffic jams are pointed to as a main contributor to air pollutants.

Councillor Stone said: "One of the things Labour have called for is to stop cars idling in traffic. Taxis and buses waiting for fares and cars standing in traffic for 20 minutes with the engine running can cause the most awful air pollution.

"The Highways Act says it is a legal requirement to turn off your engine after two minutes, and this can be enforced by borough council officers and parking attendants. This would be an immediate benefit to the air pollution levels of Northampton."

But the Green Party's Tony Clarke, a former MP for Northampton South, said: "Buses and all diesel engines have higher pollution levels at the point they are started. Turning them off and on again would only cause even more pollution.

"What Northampton Borough Council needs to do is get the bus companies to retroactively fit their buses so they no longer run on diesel, and say if they don't make these changes then they can't operate in this town."

A road in Kingsthorpe briefly became the most polluted area in the country last July when a traffic jam during a heatwave brought ozone levels to just short of the "dangerous" threshold set by the European Union.

Northampton Borough Council monitors the town's production of the poisonous diesel engine byproduct nitrogen dioxide through a series of testing stations.

In 2016, 47 of Northampton's 70 stations registered illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide, according to EU guidelines.

At time of writing, this data is not available on the Northampton Borough Council's website. Additionally, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have not listed any updated figures for the town's pollution levels for over 10 years.

Also, a pollution forecast produced by DEFRA predicts a higher than average pollution level in Northampton today (June 21) as temperatures are set to rise to 32 degrees celsius.

Mr Clarke said: "The Northampton Borough Council's emissions strategy so far is not fit for purpose. They could make changes immediately; they are not forthcoming with their pollution data; our cycle network could be one of the worst in the East Midlands and doesn't support or encourage cycling; and our Hackney Carriage taxi cabs are too dirty by even London's regulations.

"When you think about how 102 deaths a year in Northampton are down to pollution, it's just shocking."

Recommendations for the emissions plan include setting up a town-wide air quality management zone and installing electric car charging points in car parks and residential streets across Northampton.

Councillor Mike Hallam, cabinet member for the environment, said: “We have been working with a range of partners to develop a borough-wide low-emission strategy and associated action plan to improve the air quality in the town.

“The strategy isn’t due for publication until later in the year as we wanted the input of the overview and scrutiny panel. Recommendations from the panel will be discussed at a cabinet meeting on June 21.”