‘People could wear masks’ in Midhurst air pollution hotspot

Rumbolds Hill, Midhurst Photo by Derek Martin Photography. SUS-190416-154158008
Rumbolds Hill, Midhurst Photo by Derek Martin Photography. SUS-190416-154158008

A councillor has suggested that people could wear masks to protect themselves from air pollution in Midhurst.

At a meeting of Chichester District Council’s cabinet, members authorised a public consultation into plans to designate Rumbolds Hill as an Air Quality Management Area.

The area has failed tests for nitrogen oxide levels every year since 2015 and concerns were raised during the meeting about the health of people living there.

Sarah Sharp (Green, Chichester South) said she was regularly approached by residents who had been to hospital with breathing problems such as asthma, with some even considering moving away from the area.

Mrs Sharp added: “Given the growing level of public awareness of the risk of air pollution, should the council not undertake to be more proactive?

“If we can’t be more proactive should we not consider the risks of a potential court action? There have been court cases in other places by sick residents or mothers of children who have died. That’s how serious this issue is.”

Norma Graves, cabinet member for housing, agreed that the area was a problem, particularly because the road at that point is so narrow it’s difficult  – and often impossible – for vehicles to pass each other.

Mrs Graves said: “It is a very bad area. The lorries congregate at the top because they can’t come down so they’re there puffing out all their exhaust.”

But residents in the public gallery were unimpressed when she said: “We know that in certain places, until people can have this resolved, those people who are really very much at risk could wear a mask.

“We have seen it in other places abroad. That’s the only other thing I could suggest to help people who have problems.”

Mrs Sharp later took to social media to declare the idea of masks ‘topsy turvy’, adding that it would be ‘better to invest in walking and cycling and prioritise those modes over the private car’.

By law, the district council has to declare any area which fails to meet government-set targets an Air Quality Management Area.

This doesn’t mean the council has to come up with a solution to the problem but officers will arrange to speak to the highways team at West Sussex County Council to work out what could be done.

Chichester has declared three such areas, and the work carried out has seen 20 electric vehicle charging points placed in council-run car parks around the city, two electric vehicles added to the fleet used by the parking services team, and the introduction of the Co-wheels Car Club, which provides pay-as-you-drive, low emission car hire.

Simon Ballard, environmental protection manager, told the meeting: “As an authority we’re extremely proactive in the air quality area. We are better resourced than most and we’ve brought forward more actions that are relevant to tackling air pollution issues.”

Mr Ballard said an action plan would be put together after the four-week consultation and brought back to the cabinet in June.